Our time in Berlin drew to a close just over a week ago. Toby and I were acutely aware that we had work to do on our van and things to prepare for the winter, and the longer we stayed in Berlin, the harder we’d make it for ourselves. We packed up our belongings and moved house yet again. But for once in our lives, the moving day wasn’t stressful. We weren’t faced with hours of packing and re-packing and losing and finding and squabbling and cleaning…..we just put our few things into our few bags and drove away into the sunrise.
All my worldly possessions fitted into 5 small bags: a rucksack full of clothes; a carrier bag full of Icelandic wool; a carrier bag of shoes; a shopping bag of French and English teaching books, camera, kindle and computer; and my knitting machine. Woweeeeee I am so minimal, I thought. (Little did I know that 3 more bags of wool would face me in Meribel. The long and the short of it is, I have TOO MUCH WOOL. It’s true. I am so lucky to have friends with garages here who have offered to store it there for me. It’s like having a personal wool shop in which the stock is already paid for. It’s a good way to make me knit through the stash over the next few months to free up their space, without cramming more stuff into our 8m square of van).
We arrived in Meribel last Sunday night, and were greeted warmly by good friends and copious amounts of red wine. The next day, we checked out our beloved van home. Some water and a mouse had got in, but there was no major damage. The mouse had gone to town in one of our food cupboards where we’d left dry packets of sausage casserole mix….he’d eaten the lot, including a half kilo of popping corn. He had then proceeded to replace the food in the cupboard with his own shit. In essence, leaving it all exactly where he found it…..Fortunately he didn’t eat any tea, wool, or chillies - all of my favourite things! Not even the rain from the leaking roof had damaged my wool - some of it had a faint aroma of damp, but it was all fine. We found a €20 note right in the middle of the floor of the van - I don’t know how we could have left it there when we left at the end of the winter; so we decided that Oliver the mouse must have left it there as rent! :)
What a change it is to be in Meribel again - the beautiful, vast mountains looming all around with the colours of autumn starting to show. Nature replaces culture and silence replaces the sirens. Friends replace strangers, and knowing the languages spoken here (French and English) make everything seem so much easier. I certainly learnt some German during my time in Berlin, but not enough to ‘get by’. I could almost have a very basic conversation, but not really. Even though Berlin is a very international city and practically everyone I encountered spoke fluent English as the common language, I didn’t want to take the easy option for me and speak English. When I couldn’t say anything in German, I would remain silent: rather be language-less than resort to my native language.
I will miss the lawlessness of Berlin - the fact that anything goes; that whoever you are and whoever you want to be is accepted without question. I like the air of excitement and protest, and the laid-back attitude of every day life. The feeling that the city is one big festival - abandoned and reclaimed by the people, with graffiti covering every last inch of wall space. Everyday was an adventure, I went out into the city on my bicycle, my trusty steed; and photographed what I saw with my camera - everything new and everything noticeable. Everything worthy of being framed and captured through my lens.
I loved discovering a Wagonplatz (Pikey Park sites) right in the centre of the city! And Garden Communities where people live in their tiny shed homes next door to their allotments. How amazing that you can live for free in the middle of a European capital city! I was delighted by the lack of chain shops, and the abundance of independent shops and cafes; and the enormous variety of cheap and delicious food on offer.
I enjoyed going to Victoria‘s classes in Yellow Yoga every week. I loved hanging out with my friends, and meeting their friends - my friendship circle growing rapidly everyday; and I liked how it was possible to spend very little, even on eating out. I liked buying a pint of beer in a bottle from the ‘späti’ (Berliner word for ‘off-licence’) for 60 cents at the end of every day, and drinking it in the huge living room of the flat we shared with about 8 other people who came and went and swapped places with each other. I had a weird and wonderful time writing at the Sensa Nostra office, creating ‘alternative media’. Whilst many writers wrote about sex, drugs and rock & roll, I wanted to write about ‘alternative living’ and tiny homes, which sparked many conversations with my editor Kyra, who has become a friend of mine.
I liked going out and hearing new music, GOOD music, and the fact that there are no closing times for bars and clubs. Despite that, there is no crazy drinking culture - I never saw anyone really drunk or being stupid - everyone just does what they want all the time, and everyone has the opportunity to be more free and happy. There are a million other reasons why Berlin is my favourite city in the world, and has given me much food for thought, and many ideas to write about. I’ll definitely return to this city, next summer methinks :)
In Meribel, we discovered the reason for the dampness inside the van: the window that we’d so brilliantly installed in the roof many moons ago, had collapsed slightly on one side and rain had come in, soaking one side of the van. Out came the window, once and for all, and we went about patching up the hole. We had quite a lot of bad luck that day and what could have been a very easy job fixing the roof turned into a monstrous nightmare. However, we succeeded in repairing it at last in time for the rain to come again.
The day after the evening we arrived, we saw a snake slither across the road - Katie and Toby’s Wildlife Roadshow! The mountains looked like this and the summer was still in full swing.
Ten days later, the weather has dropped and the first snow has fallen, dusting across the mountains. One thing that being in Berlin and in the mountains has taught me about photography, is to seize the moment, because nothing is permanent and things can change in an instant. I snapped a shot of the sign for Oranienstrasse in Berlin, that had skateboards nailed all over it. A few weeks later, the decks had been removed, leaving just a sign post - I was so happy I caught it! Here in the mountains, I’ve been strolling around looking at the amazing views with all the colours of pre-winter and clouds dangling above the valley and below the peaks. I didn’t have my camera and wanted to capture it - and now the snow has fallen making everything a blanket white. Seize the moment, that’s my new photography motto.
I’ve been toying with several ideas recently, directions to steer Je Suis Une Monstre and bring together all the things I love the most: writing, photography, teaching, making. I have decided on a few (to start with!) and am looking forward to spending the next couple of months knuckling down and getting to grips with my knitting machine and producing a line of colourful knitted mitts to keep everyone’s paws warm in the winter months. Whaddya say, Monstres? All of that should keep me busy for a wee while. I’m looking forward to sharing my progress with you all on my blog.
What tricks have you got up your sleeves as the nights grow longer? X