Friday, May 11, 2012

Berlin



The last time I was in Germany I was with Matt. It was 2008. I had just been laid-off from my job as a newspaper reporter in California. He was working as a journalist in France. We spent a few days exploring Paris and then drove into Germany to see the tiny towns of Bavaria, where Matt had lived during his Army years. On that trip we skirted the cities, moving quickly from spot to spot, hitting the historical locations, the tourist attractions, planning and unplanning and trying to see it all.


It was just barely autumn, and I remember that the weather was perfect. I remember the exhilaration I felt when Matt drove—fast—along the autobahn. I remember being anxious about money. I remember the beer. The beer in the tiny German town of Bamberg, in particular. It was a smoked beer, a rauchbier, and, as a result, it tasted kind of like bacon. It was an acquired taste. I acquired it pretty fast.


I landed in Berlin last Wednesday afternoon for my second attempt at Germany, this time alone. I went to be part of a symposium on the sense of smell, hosted by the Einstein Forum, in the charming town of Potsdam. There were seven of us speakers, all from different corners of the small and strange world of smell. We each gave a talk, one after the other, over the course of one day. It was a long day. A fascinating day. My mind is still buzzing, in fact.


After the symposium, I spent the weekend in Berlin by myself.


While there, I walked around the fancy boutiques and funky galleries of Mitte. I meandered through the gentrified streets of Prenzlauer Berg. I visited the Neues Museum, where I saw the bust of Nefertiti, which looked just like it did on the cover of my art history textbook years ago. A local friend gave me a tour of Kreuzberg, all parks and impromptu concerts and smoky cafes, wandering along the canal in a rainstorm.


I read novels in bars, nursing a Pilsner or two. I lunched at Das Lokal with a friend of a friend, and took myself out to dinner, chatting with friendly people who sat nearby. I ate mackerel and potato salad, schnitzel and sauerkraut and pretzels, carrot soup and delicate greens, hearty breads with sour cherry jam, and more. The food was often good, sometimes great, but in the end it wasn’t the food that mattered.


It’s been a while since I’ve traveled alone. I’d forgotten the freedom of it. The in-the-moment-ness of it. The hours spanning out ahead, the hours in which anything could fill. I’d forgotten the pleasure of that. And a bit of the stress. But mainly I’d forgotten the possibility of being somewhere foreign, somewhere new, somewhere completely on my own. A lot has changed since I was last in Germany. And as I walked through the streets of Berlin—streets that burst with the musky scent of people, of brewing coffee, of car exhaust, of fresh fish and old trash and new rain—for the first time in a long time I thought: hey, okay, I can do this on my own.

10 comments:

Pia said...

What a lovely post. You might've been alone, but your words have nothing lonely about them. I've travelled just once, by myself, to a new city - and I felt a little changed after it. Like I could take on anything. And make a good time of it. Your Berlin reminded me of that.

Megan said...

What a beautiful recap. So glad you had a great time and enjoyed just being there and getting out on your own.

A Plum By Any Other Name said...

There is something so freeing about being able to do whatever you want whenever you want. Thanks for taking us on your journey!

katieleigh said...

So glad you had a lovely time. Traveling alone can be both rich and a little daunting - thanks for sharing your trip with us.

Molly said...

Thanks, guys. I loved Berlin. Am now plotting my return!

megcjones said...

just gorgeous. i spent the few months in europe (my first time there) and never made it to berlin, though i was just dying to go. thanks for these photos - make me feel like i was able to be there a little :)

Ilene said...

A lovely heartfelt post. There is a lot to be said about time alone. It's relaxing, feeing and lonely all at once. You are lucky to have had the opportunity to go back alone. So different, right?

Molly said...

thank you.

megcjones: you'll have to make a stop there on your next trip, then. the problem (and, yes, it's a good problem) is that there are just too many fascinating places to go see.

Ilene: yes, so different. i'm luck i could go to berlin, and could spend such valuable time there, alone. not sure i would have appreciated the city in the same way had i been with others.

Sarah said...

You've given me a lot more confidence that I can also re-invent myself as an individual. My 7(!) year relationship with my boyfriend fell apart earlier this summer and it's taken a bit of time for me to think of myself in terms of "I", instead of "us". We spent the majority of our twenties together and it seems so daunting to think of starting over at 29, but at the same time, I feel like I have so many things to do and try that I haven't before done or tried.

Molly said...

Sarah, oy, I'm sorry. That's so hard. After spending a solid chunk of my twenties with my now-ex boyfriend, too, I know just how horribly daunting that thought is, the one of being alone. It's taken me (is still taking me!) a while to get my head around being an "I" rather than an "us" - a "me" alone. At first I never thought I'd get there, even. It was too painful, too slow. But every day it got easier. Easier in a minuscule, barely-perceptible way, but easier none-the-less. It's been seven months and it's still hard, sometimes. But I take comfort in the fact that all of this has given me (forced me to take) the opportunity to figure out who I am - who that alone "me" actually is - and what the hell I want out of life. It sucks, yes. But it could be worse. And starting over at age 29 - when we know ourselves way better than we did at age 22 - gives us the ability to reshape our own lives with a much clearer idea of what will make us happy. This is a long and rambly response to your comment, but is just to say, hi, yes, it's hard but you can do it. xo