(Did I go to Berlin?)
They say travelling is the food of the soul, a tool to widen your horizons and experience life in a different way. Reaching for the unknown and coming back richer than you were before. Travelling is about exploring, discovering, merging with a new reality and making it your own, if only for a short while.
Before going to Berlin, I had pretty high expectations. I had heard numerous people raving about this interesting city which, as central to Europe as it is, I had actually never visited. From the history, to the people, to the general vibe of the place, I was intrigued by the idea of it and was set on making a stop as soon as possible.
My chance came as I was looking through flights and – hit by a flash of tiredness – I accidentally booked myself a ticket which would grant me a few days in the German capital, with however no concrete plans or ideas on what to do about it. Despite the randomness of it all, I became gradually invested in the trip and spent days looking up places to see and activities to do, which is one of my favourite parts of any trip (researching the place). There, I was also going to meet a friend of mine, who was going to be there during the same days with a group of friends, so I was confident I would be able to make the most of Berlin – at least nightlife-wise.
I wasn’t wrong. At least partly. You see, when visiting a place that everyone else has already been to, you will inevitably incur in an obvious problem: you want to do things they have either already done, or they are not interested in. Being the anxious traveller that I am, this posed a serious threat to my trip as I had a very, very intense calendar of activities set for my four days in the capital. Needless to say, I ended up barely doing any of them. But what did this mean? Was my trip wasted? Was I experiencing a new kind of travelling? Should I have just dropped everything and gone my own way?
As I reflect on these dilemmas, I realise now that I am not dissatisfied with this trip. I did get to go out a lot and see much of the Berlin nightlife, which I probably wouldn’t have had I been on my own. Secondly, hanging out with people who actually live in the city is pretty exciting (although I could just do that with couchsurfing either way). Thirdly, I did things which are a bit outside the touristic zone, which made me experience the city in a very different light. From trying out food places in the less known areas to taking part in a demonstration on May 1st, I can’t say it was a bad experience. At the same time, it made me wonder how much do you need to see, what do you need to do in order to actually be able to say you have visited a city.
In light of that, the question I kept asking myself once I got back was.. did I go to Berlin? Did I actually get to know the city? Did I just use it as a stage for my night fantasies? It made me very stressed not just because I had possibly wasted money and time, but also because I was actually at a mental bifurcation, unsure what to think of what had just happened. It made me doubt my previous way of travelling and pushed me into thinking perhaps I had been doing it all wrong.
In the end, I resolved it was okay either way. Personally, when I visit a city I like to seek out most of its landmarks – at least the ones I am interested in – not because they are “must do’s” in the city, but simply because they are part of its history and they made it what it is today. It’s part of their essence. Secondly, I like to walk around a lot, wander about and get lost in random streets, because that’s when you truly get to know the unseen side of the place. You end up discovering things you would have missed otherwise and, if you stay long enough, you get to that awesome stage where you actually recognise the streets and know where you’re going. There is nothing like that feeling of elation when you do, at least for me. That’s when you know you’re actually getting under the place’s skin, you know?
Because of that, only experiencing the nightlife is not for me. It might be a way of seeing it – living like a local instead of a tourist – but it’s just not who I am or the traveller I want to be. Either way, the trip made me see Berlin under a different light, far detached from the perspective I would have had had I been on my own, definitely unique compared to the past ones. I can’t be sad about that and in fact am happy I had the opportunity to do it.
With that said, I conclude my daily rant and turn the question to you: what do you consider proper travelling? What kind of person are you and how far do you think you need to go to be able to say you’ve fully visited a place? Is it better to live like a local, like a tourist or – the way I prefer it – a bit of both?