Farewell To Berlin - Reflection On Four Months As A 'Local'

We came to Berlin four months ago with an agenda and several questions. Was Berlin to be our future home? Was it time to finally put dreams of a life of travel to bed and finally get ‘real‘ jobs? And just how cold does Berlin really get?

Over the course of the past 18 months we’ve regularly asked ourselves if there are things we miss, and the answers are almost always connected to our housesitting assignments. We’d be a month or two into our latest housesit, enjoying the benefits of a fully stocked kitchen and other conveniences of the modern home, and we couldn’t help but question if maybe we missed it all in some way.

We’ve never regretted our decision to be location independent, but between one month in France, to three months in Spain; there was a part of us that thought that having a permanent base of some kind might be something worth exploring. Add onto that the exhaustion that tends to arrive after a couple of weeks of moving from hostel to Couchsurfing host, from host to housesit; we both felt ourselves torn.

Franca trying to hitchhike to Antwerp - Farewell To Berlin - Reflection On Four Months As A 'Local'

Trying to hitchhike to Antwerp

Where Will You Live?

If our own questions weren’t enough to consider, there’s always one in particular that our family and friends have never failed to ask, but never try and force us to answer.

“Where will you live? Are you coming back home?”

As always, we’d reply that we didn’t know when we started our travels in 2012, and we still didn’t know in 2014. The reality is whilst there are so many things to love about our individual homes, there’s still a whole world to explore and fall in love with. What if we haven’t visited our future home yet? It’s always something that remains on our minds – what if we haven’t found that place yet, what if we’ve yet to visit our future home?

As the months and housesits have passed, so has the time in which we wonder where to live the rest of our lives, with our thoughts on the small things we’d begun to miss never disappearing. Eventually, the opportunity return to Berlin – one of our favourite cities in the world – to petsit two lovely cats for a lovely couple we know was the nudge we needed to finally start making decisions about the future of our travels and what lies ahead in 2015.

Tigger, one of the two cats we sat for in Berlin - Farewell To Berlin - Reflection On Four Months As A 'Local'

Tigger, one of the two cats we sat for in Berlin

Housesitting In Berlin

Expectedly, we accepted our friends offer to petsit in Berlin for a month without hesitation. They’d be heading off to France for their summer holidays whilst we remained and made good friends with their two incredible cats. Not only was it going to be great fun to be in the city again, it was also the chance we needed to see if Berlin was the perfect fit for a future home, should that be our future.

By the end of those few weeks housesittng we both felt that we needed more time in the city. The feeling that how comfortable we felt in the city was something to be explored, but staying in a hostel for another week after the housesit finished was never going to be enough. Clearly we needed to extend our stay somehow, so we began to look for apartments to rent in Berlin.

We’d read once before of travel bloggers like Uncornered Market and Indefinite Adventure who’d previously moved to and found apartments to rent in Berlin, so we decided that in order for us to really get a feeling for the city and how we feel being a part of it and not on the road instead, we’d have to rent somewhere – not just for a couple of weeks – but for a few months.

Franca in Berlin - Farewell To Berlin - Reflection On Four Months As A 'Local'

Feeling proud and happy of being in Berlin

Renting In Berlin

Renting and sub-renting in Berlin is a large and growing micro-industry, not counting the huge success of the private accommodation system of Airbnb in the city. As a hotspot for much of the tech startup community in Europe, as well as a big cultural draw for many young designers and students; there are people coming and going from the city in droves – and judging from the amount of short and long-lease rentals you can find on local websites such as Craigslist, the rental section of eBay Germany (Yes, apparently you can rent via eBay in Berlin!), and WG Gesucht (where we had the most success); people are regularly leaving the capital for months on end and sub-renting whilst they’re away.

In fact, due to one such renter taking a few months off in order to travel themselves, we found somewhere to rent. She’d be travelling through Iran and the US, and wanted to rent her apartment for the three months she’d be away. Great news for us, but also a fantastic opportunity for her to negate having to end her current rental contract of some years, and then having to find somewhere else to rent when she returned.

All inclusive of bills we were set to pay €470 a month to rent one room and to have full use of the apartment, with one other smaller bedroom being rented out to another expat looking to make a home in Berlin. In hindsight and three months later we’re both of the opinion that sharing with someone else was probably not the wisest idea as there was always this thought between the two of us that we couldn’t quite relax in the apartment. There was nothing particularly wrong with our temporary housemate, more that we’ve both begun to value our personal space and the option to just become vegetables in front of the TV watching the entirety of Breaking Bad a lot more.

When we mentioned this to another friend of ours here in Berlin they questioned if maybe we’re not cut out for sharing experiences like Couchsurfing any more, but we quickly pointed out to them that there’s a big difference between sharing your home and sharing someone else’s. Couchsurfing is more about sharing a strangers home and the experiences with it; sharing the apartment was more akin to sharing our own home with someone for months at a time, and not just a long weekend.

Dale working in our Berlin apartment - Farewell To Berlin - Reflection On Four Months As A 'Local'

Working in our Berlin apartment

Doing Local Things

Renting in Berlin for a prolonged period of time really enabled us to see life through the eyes of a local. As always, we can only experience so much of their lives (as we don’t hold down jobs as they do), but we made an effort in every other sense to do as they would, shop where they would shop, even attending and supporting the local football team as they do too.

Shopping at Lidl, Rewe, and other supermarkets that feel so quiet and empty in comparison to places in the UK where we shopped once before was strange and took some getting used to. Not having the same wide selection of local and international products was peculiar, but given our change in diet to being completely vegan when we arrived in Berlin, it was no real bother at all. In the end, trips to supermarkets that are quieter than most libraries became the norm and something we came to respect as it glancing into the shopping baskets of others helped us paint an image of sorts of the lives of local Berliners.

Being here longer also gave us time to examine just how much there is to do in Berlin, and how much of it caters to our interests and tastes. We found smaller street markets where the fruit and veg is both cheap and delicious, we uncovered more of Neukoln and found great Middle Eastern corner shops where we could find all of the supplies we needed, and we also found the best vegan pizza in Berlin.

Vegan Pizza in Berlin at Sfizy Veg - Farewell To Berlin - Reflection On Four Months As A 'Local'

Vegan Pizza in Berlin at Sfizy Veg

With such a vibrant social scene, it was inevitable that meeting with locals and making friends was soon to be on the agenda, and using some of the methods we mentioned in our new free guide to long-term travel, we found some lovely fellow lovers of travel blogging via the Meetup Travel Bloggers Berlin event and Travel Massive. Both interesting events were bloggers of all durations can come together to share their love for travel.

Dale and Franca meeting Gianni and Ivana of Nomadbeautiful.com - Farewell To Berlin - Reflection On Four Months As A 'Local'

Meeting Gianni and Ivana of Nomadbeautiful.com

Two other events that we discovered during our time were really quite something special. Firstly, we both found ourselves surprisingly enjoying the Berlin Festival of Lights even though light shows aren’t normally our thing. Secondly, we were in attendance for the 25th Anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall which was remembered with another light show, this time as unmissable light art piece that retraced the former wall.

The balloons installation along the Berlin Wall - Farewell To Berlin - Reflection On Four Months As A 'Local'

The balloons installation along the Berlin Wall

Time To Work Hard

Being stationary has also given us amble time to think not only about if we want to start looking for a new home base, but also about what our travels and this travel blog will be in the future.

Angloitalian Follow Us started as a chronicle of our adventures for our family and friends back in the UK and Italy, but before we knew it we had people from all over the world reading and following along with us as we fumbled and somehow found our way from one country to the next. So should our travels end, would that mean the blog must end too?

We gave it a lot of thought and asked you all for your opinions before deciding that no matter what happens, we’d keep on blogging. No matter if it’s as a part-time travel blog or as a collection of our ups and downs in our news lives as expats, we’d keep the blog going. But not only that, we decided that – with your approval – start to look at our thoughts and experiences whilst travelling as a business instead of as a hobby. It’s meant a lot of soul searching as tried to decide if we wanted to go down the normal path of travel blogging or to try and forge something unique for ourselves, but the search has been more than beneficial to us both.

We both realised that we now tend to prefer a longer type of travel writing, and that what makes travel blogging great is great travel writing. Travel blogging is about sharing personal stories, thoughts, and observations. It’s not ‘Top Ten‘ lists or misleading titles like “You’ll Never Guess Which Country Is Best For Getting Drunk CHEAP‘. And through discussion with readers like yourself, we came to the conclusion that every medium is enjoyable, just as long as it’s personal, engaging, and not just trying to sell you something.

Not top of our new direction, we also had the time to finally compile our first eBook full of all the advice we hope will inspire and enable other people to explore and see the world. With it we’re hoping to make people understand that there’s no magic spell to the travel we do, it’s just a simple combination of letting go, being more minimal, and setting off.

Franca writing on Skype - Farewell To Berlin - Reflection On Four Months As A 'Local'

Time To Celebrate

Possibly the most important moment from our three months from renting in Berlin was celebrating not only our two year travelversary, but also our fifth year as a couple.

Having somewhere to call home during that period of celebration was really special for us both as for the past two years we’ve typically been on the road and sharing someone’s sofa or spare room via Couchsurfing.

Dale and Franca celebrating five years together - Farewell To Berlin - Reflection On Four Months As A 'Local'

Celebrating five years together

So Is Berlin The Base?

In a word? Maybe.

To be absolutely truthful with you, we’re not entirely sure. We’ve absolutely loved our time in Berlin, but as much as we’ve loved being stationary to catch up with all the writing of events we wanted to share, and all the events we’ve done in the city; there’s a part of us that just isn’t ready to say “addio” just yet.

What does that mean for the future? Well this weekend we left Berlin and have spent the past few days in Verona in the north of Italy as the first stop on our way south to Franca’s hometown of Alberobello for our first Christmas together with family – plus it’s freezing in Berlin

As we left the temperature was starting to hit zero degrees and it was only the beginning of December. Sign enough that even if we want to make Berlin our home base for breaks between our travels in 2015, being there during the winter certainly won’t be a part of that. In fact, it’s far more common than we realised for Berliners to leave the city for three months over winter because it really does get as cold as people tend to say.

It’s incredibly likely that if we can manage to go professional with this travel blog in 2015 that Berlin will be first choice for our home base, but it’s really dependent on making our business model work. It’s not going to be easy, but if we have to go the harder route so that you get our 100% honest and open approach, then that’s what we’ll do.

It’s As Great As They Say

There’s no doubting that Berlin is as amazing as people tend to describe. It’s changing, sure; but doesn’t everywhere? It’s still rough around the edges, and that’s where you’ll find us. We love that within one afternoon’s walk we can see the highlights of the skyline, the mixed cultures of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg and Neukölln, to the curious Soviet memorial in Treptower Park. And that’s not forgetting that there’s so much to the city that we’ve yet to experience.

We know that we’ll be back. It feels almost inevitable…

…but when it’s slightly warmer again.

Have you visited Berlin yet?