Some days I really wonder why I chose to live in Berlin. A city famous for it's hedonistic, outspoken, alternativeness. This city's lifeblood seems to be the synthetic beat of Techno emitting from it's cavernous industrial clubs, which rumour has it have strict but unknown codes on who can gain entry or not. Oftentimes I feel too plain, too colourful, too rustic for this city. I don't wear all black all day every day. I don't smoke constantly or wear expensive vintage Adidas. And on these days when I'm missing my quiet Scottish hills where I can walk for hours in peaceful solitude without encountering a soul, I want to escape.
Berlin has been described as 'poor but sexy', a fitting description I think. And Potsdam, but an hour from the heart of the Capital could be described as 'rich and beautiful'. With the entire town practically being a UNESCO world Heritage site, and it being the site of a staggering 500 hectares of parklands and Palaces, this is accurate. I explored this charming town, the capital of Brandenburg, with fellow 4 ESC volunteers. I love that there's always a network of people to explore places with seeing as it's all new for us all! The motto of the day was 'WOW!' Around every corner the architecture, landscaping, views, autumn colours and charm were just breathtaking. We did a whirlwind tour of all the top sights including Glienicke Bridge and Wannsee where the silver waters were outlined by the firey hues of the turning trees. Next on to a complex of Palaces and Parks, from the Schloss Cecilienhof in the Neuer Garten with it's quaint German charm and angular topiary, to the decadence and grandeur of Sanssouci (literally meaning 'carefree') Palace and Oangery. We also found the gem that is the Drachenhaus cafe, an almost oriental looking hut with tiny dragons standing guard over the land from the tiered rooftop. And their entire menu of hot chocolates was a delightful surprise as well during a chilly day of walking and wandering. We sauntered past the typical tourist sites in the town istelf like the surprising dutch Quarter: it seemed as if we'd teleported into Holland with the strictly traitional rows of red brick houses. Sadly no Dutch pancakes were consumed but they wouldn't have gone amiss. And to top it all off with a final 'WOW!' (perhaps the biggest of them all) was the University complex at the Neues Palais. I thought I had seen my fair share of beautiful old Universities, including my own in Scotland built in 1495. But they all pale in comparison to the grandeur of Potsdam University and it's cluster of elegantly spaced montrosities of Palaces built by the Prussian Kings. Their sweeping staircases rose to copper domes, each topped with a shining gilded statue that glittered in the late afternoon sun. The sheer scale of it was incredible, I could fully imagine studying there. And unlike my co-explorers who expressed that they would feel isolated or bored in Potsdam, which seemed quiet, almost unpopulated aside from 2 or 3 main tourist attractions, I felt more at peace. My mind was quieter, my body less tense. I could breathe there, see a horizon rather than the jagged cityscape of buildings, and I could hear the bird-song instead of the roar of transport, conversation and sirens of Berlin.
And then for day two of my city escape weekend. This time a different combination of fellow ESC explorers accompanied me to Leipnitzsee, one of the cleanest lakes in Brandenburg. My tired worn out self was tempted to stay in bed all day but I was so glad I pushed myself to go. We entered the most beatiful golden woods surrounding the lake, reminiscent of Lothlorien from Middle Earth in it's shining yellow beauty. Shuffling my feet through the deep bed of fallen leaves and acorns, wading through bogs and clambering over fallen tree trunks. This is where I belong and was a solid reminder to seek out nature more during this year. My soul goes quiet in the concrete boxes of a city, but a day like this can alight it again. We spent a whole day, walking the circumference of the lake, wishing the water was warmer so we could leap into the water and swim to the island, eating our snacks with improvised cultery, laughing, chatting or silently appreciating the peace, beauty and stillness. After a coffee we headed home but with promises to return in spring when the water would glow blue and we could finally swim under the sun.
And so I returned to Berlin with it's population equalling that of my entire home country. Back to the hustle and bustle, brushing shoulders with an uncomfortable amount of people who openly talk to themselves on the U-bahn, to the beggers who pepper public transport routes with desperate eyes and the stoic, tired gaze of tired city workers. It seems a bit overwhelming after a peaceful weekend in the golden autumn woods and silent lakesides of Brandenburg. It certainly brought forth some homesickness for my Highland forests with dogs running ahead of me though the cold black rivers and mossy pine needles. But now at least, I know I can escape to the welcoming forests and lakes of Brandenburg if the city is swallowing me.