A story about what it feels like jumping out of a secure life and plunging into the unknown. 

The Berlin fantasy

My first weekend in Berlin: I wake up in the heart of the city’s hipster district, wander to my local organic cafe and bump into a bunch of artsy millennials living in a commune. We whittle away the day discussing the nature of existence and learning Esperanto. As night falls we set up camp in an abandoned ex-Soviet warehouse, imbibe psychedelic cocktails and write the second volume of the Karma Sutra.

Rather, that is the fantasy I have in my head. In reality, I wake up on a Saturday morning by the farting of my 70 year old flatmate in the middle of Berlin's Turkish community.

It’s a story in itself how I end up living with a pair of septuagenarians. But, for €100 a month for rent and free bog roll, I’m not complaining. 

Well, except for the fact my flatmate won’t talk to me. It’s not because he doesn’t like me or that his English isn’t very good and my German is non-existent. (I could spend money and time learning German but I’m too busy finding these elusive commune-living millennials). 

He is, as my landlady informed me 'convinced the government is spying on him and the mobile signal from your smart phone will summon a drone strike’.

Somewhat fearing for my life, I leave behind the paranoid old fart and peruse cafes all day. But it soon becomes obvious organic cafes are not where the existentialist artsy folk spend their time. Maybe I’ll find bump into them when I begin doing yoga again?

A few days later I rock up to a local studio and realise I’ve forgotten my towel.

‘You don’t need a towel! A little sweat is good for you’ the receptionist chirps. 

‘Buddy, I know. That’s why I choose this form of high intensity yoga. But I sweat like a bastard and my neighbouring yogis will hate me within 10 minutes. Can I have a towel please?’

‘Oh, well we’ve run out of towels’.

Not taking ’no’ for an answer, I point to a filthy kitchen towel hanging behind him.

His face betrays disgust but I don’t care. I need these psychedelic millennials to like me. 

Strolling into the studio I’m intimidated to see that every square inch is filled with mats, limbs and yoga paraphernalia. 

The instructor motions for me to come up to the very front of class and use his personal mat. Sitting down, I turn around to see 50 faces staring right back at me, expecting me to lead the way. 

I’m nervous. But it’s okay - 'I’ve been doing yoga for long enough now’ I tell myself.  

And then the instructor begins talking in German.

I don’t understand a word he’s saying. Kaput. And I can’t see anybody to help guide my movements.

Within five minutes the class must think I’ve lost my marbles. What else could explain why I’m schizophrenically changing positions while madly looking all around me? 

To add insult to injury my filthy kitchen towel stops cooperating after 30 minutes and can’t soak up a single drop more. 

As I push water around my mat with zero idea what I’m doing in front of 50 spectators, I begin to wonder how going to a German yoga class was ever a good idea. How naive was I to think I’d be able to follow a class in a foreign language? Maybe it’s because every interaction I have in Berlin is in English. I get so used to relying on the impeccable English of native Germans that I forget how very unrecognisable German is to my English ears. 

60 minutes later I slink out and look forward to washing off this experience with a cleansing shower. Except I still don’t have a towel and I’m not about to embarrass myself further by rubbing a filthy waterlogged kitchen towel across my body. 

I find a lonely looking towel and hope that it was left behind by someone else.  

It feels good to have some alone time and decompress from the embarrassment of earlier. That is until I'm interrupted mid-shower by my naked yoga instructor knocking on my shower door making it clear I've taken his towel.

Fast forward an excruciatingly awkward 10 minutes and I’m alone again without encountering a single Berlin fantasy stereotype. And it dawns on me that most Berliners don’t talk Esperanto, nor do they take psychedelics while living in ex-Soviet communes.

In fact, they’re just cybersecurity-obsessed coffee-drinking yoga-practising Germans. And Berlin is the city they happen to call home.  


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