I realize I haven’t written a whole lot about life in Germany just yet. It’s taken me awhile to feel settled – I suppose jetting off to a new destination every few weeks doesn’t exactly help.
To be honest, I wasn’t entirely happy in Germany at first. The bureaucracy really stressed me out, and I wanted to keep travelling. I ended up losing thousands of dollars thanks to various issues, like having to take care of the abnormal cells that popped up on a recent screening (I’m fine, thank goodness). I considered moving back home after Christmas. But I’m not, because in a short amount of time I’ve fallen madly, deeply, irrevocably in love with Berlin and its surroundings.
I’m feeling a little…thoughtful today. It’s the 26th year anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, which puts a lump in my throat. I remember my first time sighting a small piece of the wall on my taxi ride from the airport to my apartment, the day I arrived in Berlin. I had never seen it before, but knew instinctively what it was, and was instantly emotional about it…perhaps in acknowledgment of everything that’s happened in this great, wonderful, tragic city.
Once the homesickness faded and I started exploring the area and its many offerings, things changed. Berlin is brazen and refuses to be loved sometimes. But then there are places like Potsdam, the neighbouring municipality just a 3.30 EUR train ride away. I had booked a boat tour through GetMyBoat with a man named Guenther, and my friend Michelle came along for the ride. I grumbled about the hour-long train ride but by the time we were flying through the forested outskirts of town, through golden trees imbued with autumn colour, I was feeling much better about life.
(Minus the crazy punk man who wandered onboard talking to himself, wheeling a bike spray-painted in gold.)
Michelle and I met Guenther at the arena, where he introduced us to Carpe Diem, a 43-foot yacht with all the trimmings. Michelle and me instantly popped open a bottle of champagne.
It’s obvious by now that I love yachting. I love the breeze, the warm sun, the open waters, and the fresh perspective of every port from the deck. And despite Berlin’s bitter chill, Potsdam was surprisingly warm for an autumn afternoon. People don’t know what they’re missing out on when sticking to travel only in summer months.
We set out on the waterways and canals around Potsdam, apparently having the whole city to ourselves. I felt a bit like royalty, wrapped in warm clothing, puttering along on a yacht with a glass of champagne in hand.
The yacht can hold up to 25 people, but seeing as how I don’t even know that many people in Germany, we had the whole thing to ourselves. This turned out to be ideal in more ways than one, because Guenther was able to devote his time chatting with us and telling us stories from his sailing days. He’s had a lot of interesting characters on his cruises, and having lived through Cold War times, he was able to point out significant landmarks along the way.
“See how that bridge is divided by two different colours of green?” He pointed to Glienicke Bridge. “That marks the division between East and West.”
But the main attractions are the castles and opulent homes along the water’s edge, like the fantastical Babelsberg Castle (in the feature image). This was Emperor William I’s summer residence, and although it’s normally open to the public (there’s a small café inside), it’s currently closed for renovations.
I suppose the modern-day castles are the rich cottage-like homes scattered all over the place. Nobility used to dine here and watch the sunset over Potsdam.
Michelle and I were both a little tipsy by the time we stepped off the yacht, but Guenther had armed us with a map of Potsdam and told us where we should go in Park Charlottenhof and Park Sanssouci. I don’t know whether it was the bubbly or the joy of discovering something new, but Sanssouci Park was overwhelmingly beautiful. Every autumn colour was so vibrant and so prominent all we could do was stand around staring and taking photos. I don’t think I’ve ever been so mesmerized by fall colours.
We kicked our way through a carpet of leaves, meandering around Schloss Charlottenhof (“Schloss” meaning castle), then onwards around the Chinese House, with everything illuminated in gold.
Finally we reached Schloss Sanssouci, the centrepiece.
There was a crowd around, despite it being mid-October. The palace used to be the summer residence of Frederick the Great, the King of Prussia, with “sans souci” meaning “carefree” in French. The terraced gardens leading up to the Rococo-style residence tends to obscure much of the beauty in the architecture though, and since I hadn’t eaten breakfast yet that day, I decided I’d have to come back later to see more. (I didn’t. Go figure.)
We wandered along, past the Obeliskportal and then to the pedestrian streets lined with cafes, shops, and pubs. I devoured a full pizza and then we headed back to Berlin, me happy with the reminder that I can still be a tourist even as an expat.