TRAVEL :: Why I Heart Berlin
I have had a love affair with Germany for years. That is no mystery to most people who know me. Germany is Gemütlichkeit—a special word I adore. It cannot be summarized in a single English word. It is the comfort of an atmosphere and experience more than a physical object or place. It is so much more than the simple definition of cozy. Many things about Germany give me the warm fuzzies of Gemütlichkeit, filling my spirit with contentment and happiness beyond words.
I have spent loads of time in Munich with friends over the years. In Munich, Gemütlichkeit was a tiny little tavern, a sunny corner of a biergarten under a canopy of trees, or having casual European brunch at a friend’s tiny apartment that lasts from noon to midnight. After experiencing the Bavarian way of making friendly conversation with new friend at a long Bavarian table in countless biergartens, I did not expect to be taken with Berlin the way I was.
The notion of Gemütlichkeit took on a whole new meaning for me in Berlin. It became a sense of belonging, inclusion, and comfort. Having always been different, a creative, an artist, defying categorization, and maybe even a little bit crazy, it was life-changing to find a place where I could be whatever I wanted to be—without judgement or side glances. I ventured out solo every day, sometimes walking 16 miles, searching for and photographing everything that struck me as perfectly Berlin. This magical unicorn of a city will forever be the place where I felt so inspired by my surroundings that I felt comfortable introducing myself as an artist for the first time. Or maybe I just discovered that Berlin was actually my spirit animal.
I developed a mad obsession with the U-bahn (some of the best transit in existence), spending days hopping on and off discovering new parts of this city with an intense lust for life. I could not get enough of Berlin. From day one, it gripped me, and I wanted to soak up every last drop of it. I slept 4–5 hours a day for the entire time I was there because there just were not enough hours in the day to bond with my new BFF, Berlin. It was like a drug I could not quit.
Some of my favorite things to do in Berlin were simple, everyday things that Berliners enjoy, especially during Berlin Summer. If you do not know what this is, you simply need to experience it. If the sun is out, Berliners are out enjoying friends, sunshine, music, conversation, and life. Roadie biers are standard in Berlin. To live like a local, grab a Berliner Kindl Jubiläums Pilsener or two, hop on the U-bahn, and make your way to the edge of the river Spree. This is Berlin Gemütlichkeit to me.
I spent many afternoons during my five week-stay people watching and sitting with a bier in hand near Hackescher Markt, watching the sun cast different shadows across the historic Berliner Dom just on the other side of the River Spree. That gives you an idea of how long I could sit there andjust be.
It is interesting when you stay in a city for so long that you actually start developing rituals. I never felt like I was a tourist here. In fact, I felt so at-home from the first day that I strutted the streets like I had lived in Berlin for years. The first weekend in town, I made my way to this outdoor karaoke madness I had heard about. Curiosity got the best of me and I had to know what this was all about. On a sunny Sunday afternoon, thousands of locals and tourists alike flock to Mauerpark for flea market gems, live music, games, hanging out, dancing, and celebrating life. It almost feels like Burning Man has come to Berlin, but this happens every week.
One of the most entertaining highlights that celebrates Berlin’s sense of inclusion and acceptance is Sonntags Karaoke am Mauerpark. It is an outdoor amphitheater where people gather for Sunday afternoon karaoke in front of a crowd of 1500+ people. And yes, got up and performed—because Berlin fosters this free spirit and celebration of life. The adrenaline rush of standing in front of that crowd singing my heart out was pretty amazing. But honestly, the previous three weeks I sat in the crowd cheering people and singing along was just as much fun. Everyone is a talented star there, or so you would believe from the crowds’ cheering. Even if your performance is far from perfect, there are people screaming with encouragement. It is actually unlike anything I have ever experienced.
I have never been one for going out solo. Berlin changed that for me. I felt no fear about sitting at Prater Garten, the oldest biergarten in the city, by myself. Berlin had embraced me and I knew that I belonged here, no matter where I was hanging out. I could be anonymous in a crowd here. Or I could sit next to a stranger and have a random conversation. Or I could make new random German friends while hiking in the forest on the way up to Teufelsberg to check out graffiti in an old spy station.
This is the free spirit of a city that celebrates life and that is why I Heart Berlin.