So here I am in Berlin.
Ironic. To whit, in the past 24 hours since I’ve arrived, I’ve been to a Christmas market to drink Glühwein, I’ve done a Christmas food shop, I’ve watched ‘Love Actually’ (with German subtitles) and I’ve read half of Charles Dickens’s ‘A Christmas Carol’.
For those of you who don’t know me, I met the love of my life this year. I also subsequently suffered the worst break up of my life. With no parents and no kids to boot, Christmas suddenly became an exercise in avoiding shops, tinsel and other people’s happiness.
When I decided to come to Berlin for Christmas it looked like I was tying to escape. Which, in a way, I was. However, taking the decision to visit one of the Weihnachtiest places on earth was also actually sticking up two fingers to my aversion to Christmas (and also, as it turns out, to a shitty, horrible, cowardly terrorist attack, though I did not know this when I booked my flight and accommodation).
For me Berlin is home. I love the city where I was born and live, but my adopted home, where my heart is, is Berlin. I know it better than London, Manchester and yes, even Leeds. I visit Berlin at least once a year, sometimes twice if time and money allow.
It represents a downing of tools to really relax and absolutely be me without any hang-ups. I feel more like ‘me’ here than I do anywhere else, including at home. Nobody here cares whether I’m fat or thin, young or old, have blue hair, or red, or both. If I was middle class and had a ‘holiday home’ this is where it would be. But I’m not, and I haven’t, so it just remains where my heart is. And in return Berlin loves me back. Unconditionally.
This Christmas I needed to not be at home. I needed a new set of walls to look at. So naturally I turned to my mate Berlin.
It’s very difficult to explain if you don’t travel solo – but to come away is to empower yourself. If I had stayed home this Christmas would I have set off to the German market in Leeds on my own to buy tacky trinkets? Would I have booked myself into a swanky vegan restaurant on Christmas Day to eat five courses and drink selected wine pairings? Maybe joined an organised walk on Boxing Day before heading off to a museum and then to a botanical garden to follow a Christmas trail lit up in all its glory? Of course not.
You see, this is the thing; solo travel, regardless of the time of year, puts into the palm of your hand incredible experiences you wouldn’t even consider at home. You feel no shame, nor guilt, nor doubt, rather you grab every opportunity you can with both hands because you’re away, not at home, and your safety net is knowing that no one around you actually gives a shit.
At home I’m a nobody. I’m the sad old lady with no parents, no partner and only a handful of friends (though, it has to be said, it’s more about quality than quantity – you guys are amazing, thank you!), who lives in a teeny, tiny house, and who works hard but never really does that much with her life.
But, you know, book yourself on a flight to some place and conjure up a few activities and all of a sudden you have this swanky travelling lifestyle, haha. The truth is its not at all glamour, sometimes it’s scary, and crazy, and sometimes it’s just really hard work, but for the most part it’s fantastic.
At home today I would have spent time brooding and crying and feeling really, horribly sorry for myself. But as it is I had a lovely walk through a residential neighbourhood, observing other people’s lives and Christmas preparations, before wandering into the most tourist area of the city so see it in a quieter, more civilised fashion. Then I came ‘home’ to my rented apartment, cooked some nice food and opened a lovely bottle of German wine.
The really wonderful thing about spending time in a foreign city that you know and have been to many times over is the lack of pressure to visit that tourist attraction or to queue to go up that tower. Instead it’s just so nice to spend time soaking up its atmosphere, increasing your understanding of what makes it tick and learning more and more about what it is that you love.
As I grow older I am learning what life is, namely, constructing my own reality and how to spend time doing the things that make me happy in the best way I can. It’s about breaking the rules that society dictate and making the ones that suit me. Tomorrow I will not be sitting down to turkey with 15 family members. That’s mainly because I don’t have 15 family members and I don’t eat meat. I’ve also just realised I won’t have any presents to open.
No matter. This Christmas I have given myself a gift no one else could: the escapism I needed, a time to recharge and reset, a trip that suits me and improves me. Priceless.
Whether you’re home or away for the festive season, solo or with family and friends, I wish you well. Be healthy, and above all, happy. Merry Christmas.