On the train from Brehmen to Berlin I am told by a German man, who has just been on holiday by bike with his wife, that the city has become quite busy during the decade since the last time I was here. We arrive at the central station in the early evening, I say goodbye to the German couple and we go our separate ways.

Strolling from the central station towards café 19grams Chaussee – a café on nearby Chaussee Str. I went to a couple of years earlier with a nice quiet atmosphere, even though it is right in the centre of the city – I think about all the hospitality, the privilege of enjoying the generosity of so many people during my journey so far: The friendly elderly couple inviting me for coffee in Fredericia; Mariel offering me two nights accommodation also in Fredericia; Heinrich offering me accommodation and interesting conversation on his ideas on oases and caravans among many other topics; the German guys at the sports facility not throwing me out for trespassing on their property, where I had camped for the night, but instead offering me a breakfast of bread with minced raw pork, which had made me (not so subtly as I had hoped for) throw the meat into the nearest bush and just eat the bread thinking they must be out of their minds eating raw pork and only later learning that this is a popular treat in Germany called Mett or Mettbrötchen), and a shower at their facilities (and a bit of friendly ridicule, I think).

All this is surely all over. I am in the big metropolis. Here people will be busy and nobody will care about a bearded, not exactly well-groomed tramp like me, even though my green Raleigh is still shining. I will not disappear in the crowd. Worse, I will be avoided due to my trampy appearance.

A diamond expert who cares and wants out

Café 19grams is closed and In order to be able to find my way around – and everything else for which you need a working smart phone – I go to a kiosk across the street, a späti, as the Germans call these kiosks where people hang out until late at the tables arranged outside, to get my phone charged.

I, then ask the guy sitting at the table outside, if I can join him.  

Sure I can, and he initiates a conversation with me, inquiring into the purpose of me being in Berlin and also shares his story with me. His name is Léon and he tells me he is a diamond expert and really wants out of the business. Not to my surprise, he tells me people in the diamond industry are not among God´s best children, and he feels misplaced in this line of business, the vocation of some other family members too.

We didn´t get much deeper into the topic of the diamond industry, but Léon tells me he has an alternative business idea that he hopes to develop into a viable, alternative source of income. Apart from that, to my big surprise, Leon offers me a shower at his apartment right across the street and to stay the night in his Volkswagen van parked on the adjacent street. The next morning, therefore, I wake up having slept in a bed generously offered me without as much as asking for it. And this time in a big city, where I supposed people wouldn´t care.

Adapting to the unknown streets

Waking up in the van, I get out, slam it locked as instructed and pull my bike down from the car roof, and then I start the game that everybody coming to stay for a while in a new city must play: Where to find anything and everything, and how to get around. Thankfully, I find this to be fun and really do make a game out of it, starting by taking notes of which streets has places that offer valuable services or nice cafés. Thus, my notebook tells me, for instance: Torstrasse: laundromat service and bike shop, where I bought a new bike chain lock having somehow lost the key to the previous one. Later, I find out much else about this particular street, for instance that it has a café called St. Oberholz with a good work atmosphere, where most people are looking into their PCs engaged in some kind of studies, work, social media et cetera. The perfect place to find the peace and quiet to write my blog articles.

I also do a lot of street conjunction memorization, connecting interesting streets such as Torstrasse. with Weinbergsweg, which is lined with cafés and restaurants only. And then build a mental map from there, ambitiously and playfully. Taking notes, first of places that can provide a socket for charging and/or wifi, preferably in a place where I can sneak the laptop or phone charger into the socket without buying something. This has let to me to pretend to drink from a McDonald´s plastic a couple of times, since the last time I was there, I had to go buy fries without wanting anything, or else the security guard had thrown me out.

Of course I also note places that might become favorite places. First it´s the cafés 19grams Chaussee and St. Oberholz. Only later will I get the advice of going to church yards to get free water from fountains. Thank you, Reiner, for this idea. It´s not that I don´t know how to use the google maps gps, but unlike you, most likely, I don´t have a socket where to charge my phone, when I sleep, since my tent has not yet become connected to the grid, wherefore I often don´t have any battery on my phone for many hours, and even when I do, I prefer to not use headphones due to tinnitus, and it can be really hard to hear the gps speaking out loud among the roaring car engines.

My mental street mapping game goes something like this: Brunnen Str. has got the McDonald´s with one socket and free wifi, and is open 24/7. Brunnen Str. leads downhill to the crossroads of Brunnen, Tor Strasse. Weinbergsweg and Rosenthaler. Gradually the mental mapping becomes longer and more detailed, when memorizing my commutes, such as Alt-Moabit leads to Gotzkowskystrasse, where there is a red brick building after which I have to turn left, soon thereafter a bridge and then I need to follow it shortly until it connects with Franklin strasse, the one with five different automobile manufacturers, which becomes March strasse, which leads to the crossroads of… etc. etc. I have to stop here, in order not to tell you exactly where I stay. I prefer invited guests.

Desperation among blackberries, wild carrots and Berlin Wall remnants 

Torstrasse has also been my starting point for seeking employment as a forager for restaurants and cafées. One place I visited is a Danish-run craft beers bar called Mikkeller. The guy in the bar was very friendly and sounded interested, but it was not up to him. Instead I should email the Mikkeller guys in Copenhagen. Anyway the visit got me thinking of hops and where to get them, which brought me to this place called Das Nasse Dreieck, a wasteland left undeveloped and therefore taken over by wild plants.

Arriving there, excited to see which plants the place has to offer, I end up in a corner, where remnants of the Berlin Wall are stacked on top of each other. Sensing I am searching for something, one of the guys sitting on the wall remnants says hi and wants to help. So, I tell them I am looking for wild plants.

My first thought is that this is two friends chilling out here in this little oasis. Only slowly does the situation become clear to me, inhibited by the language barrier, of course. Of the pieces of the conversation I understood between the two, a sentence from the guy I will here call Reinhard, (which is not his real name) to the other guy: “Ich mache mir Sorgen um dich” is printed in my mind.

Reinhard explained to me what was at stake, a bad situation in which the guy I will here call Tobias found himself, and which is of such a character that I will have to keep this part of the story unwritten for now. Suffice to say that Tobias was very anxious and unsure whether to accept Reinhard´s offer to stay a night at his place or not and also seemed uneasy with my presence. I therefore chose to leave the two, so that Reinhard might more easily persuade Tobias to go with him and rest at his place. 

Wanting very much to help out, I nevertheless felt I would help best by staying away and just get back to my original plan: foraging. And so I did, and found lots of blackberry bushes, some sea buckthorn bushes too, and lots of wild carrots, on fields also containing yarrow, dandelion and mugwort and even a little bit of flat pea, and the not yet ripe hops I had originally been searching for. I really hit the jackpot here, found a little oasis.

I could not help keeping an eye on the two German guys, of course, hoping Reinhard would finally be able to persuade Tobias. But I spend perhaps an hour or more, until I was satisfied with my foraging trip, and didn´t see the guys there any longer. I went out, heading home. 

Outside Nasse Dreieck, to my surprise, I saw Reinhard on the sidewalk. He told me he couldn´t, after all, persuade Tobias and urged me to give it a try. So I did. As I was giving it as mediator, Reinhard later came back and after some more discussion, Tobias finally agreed to go home with Reinhard.

The beginning of business?

Only about two days after arriving in Berlin, a heavy rain starting one evening the moment as one of the World Cup games finished, became the decisive factor making me abandon my life in a tent and move into a hostel. I had slept two nights in Humboldtshain, all alone and enjoying the peace, since it is not allowed to camp there, and had on the second morning been asked kindly to not camp there by a park attendant.

Staying in a hostel also spurred me to think seriously about the main purpose of going to Berlin in the first place: exploring the options of doing business as a speaker on the food/climate change topic or as a forager. I started in Torstrasse together with a Chinese girl, Miao, who I had met at the hostel. Some days later, without really prepping myself for it, I went into a café, in order to write an article for this blog, but thought why not tell the waitress about my ideas and inquire a bit into whether the café might be interested in some wild plant deliveries.

The waitress smiled, a bit shyly, not sure what to answer. She seemed to like me. I said it was probably a question for the manager. She then went and to my table came instead a guy called Sebastián. He seemed very interested in what I did but told me the café didn´t really need deliveries, only he might like some wild plants for photos for his food blog.

But he then went and brought another man called Juan from the restaurant next door, who seemed VERY interested. So we talked and talked about wild carrots, meadowsweet, yarrow, greater burdock etc. and when I left café Linnen, it seemed I had a deal with the chef from restaurant Kochu Karu, a Korean/Spanish fusion restaurant and a recipient of the Michelin bib gourmand distinction for the fourth year in a row.

Welcome to the Real Berlin

Due to a variety of factors – such as things getting lost and such a dumb thing as having had to travel by train across central Denmark in order to fetch my passport I came to realize I had stored away in western Zeeland as I approached the German border at the end of June – I had been overspending during June and July. And the few rainy days had long since stopped. Despite the slightly stressful situation of having to pack your tent each morning and carry it around and always being a bit anxious that someone might steal some of your belongings and valuables, the entirety of which you carry with you on the street when neither staying in a hostel or camping spot, I decided that it was now again time to leave the hostel and camp on free spots in the city.

The afternoon after having checked out of the hostel, I am supposed to meet Tobias, and teach him about the wild plants in Maurpark. He doesn´t show up, however, but a guy called Reiner approaches me instead. The story about meeting Reiner and how this relation develops is the story of another article.

Suffice to say, for now, that I stay the night at his apartment and leave the next day, riding down the street until I come to a café called Meet me by the Baobab Tree. There I chat with one of the café owners, a hungarian woman called Hanna. And later a man enters, who I also get to talk with. His name is Nigel, he is Australian, a vegan and, it turns out, pursuing his dream of passing on to the Berliners his insights into the subconscious. This seems to be a frustratingly difficult project, which he thinks he has wasted years engaging in, and Nigel, therefore, considers moving to Switzerland, where people seem much more open to his ideas.

I also get to meet the other owner of the café, Luke, also an Australian. He tells me, with his charm and a winking eye, that this part of Berlin, the Soldiner neighborhood, is the Real Berlin. Unlike in the international Kreutzberg, people here have been living here for decades. Previously a street populated by prostitutes, it still is a lower income area, situated right next to the more affluent Pankow. The two neighborhoods were developed on each their side of the Berlin Wall, the Soldiner neighborhood west of the wall and Pankow right on the other side in Eastern Germany. Things are changing, however, Luke tells me. But he still feels hopeful that Berlin will not loose its soul to capitalism. At some point he comments that there are many Danes here in Berlin. “It is very different here, right?” I have to ask him what he means. He tells me that you can find anything here in Berlin, any subculture. Whatever your interests, you can find it, if you search for it.