The Evolution of a Nomad (or, Why Berlin?)

The road to nowhere, or the road less traveled? 3-D #streetart #Berlin
Berlin.

This is a story about life shaping…and a thank you to the people who have helped make it possible.

A few days ago we returned to Berlin from a month in New Zealand. Something was different. Really different. Traveling for a month is not particularly unusual for us, but the fact that we had keys to an apartment, one where our names were on the buzzer, certainly was.

At this point, you might be saying: “What?! You guys are nomads! Nomads don’t have keys, much less apartments with their names on the door. What’s going on?”

Life shaping. Berlin. That’s what.

1) What’s this all about?

Short answer: we’re creating a base in Berlin. In practical terms, this means having a flat (apartment) that we can return to between trips and projects to recharge batteries, write, and create and work on new projects. Think of it as a move towards semi-nomadism.

Long answer: That’s for telling over a drink or two. We actually moved in a couple of months ago to an altbau flat in a cache of Neukölln just a couple blocks from the edge of Tempelhof, atop one of Berlin’s few hills. From here on out, we’ll call it Tempelkölln until someone from Berlin tells us how ridiculous that name is. There’s a whole backstory of twists and turns as to why we decided on Berlin, how we jumped through hoops to get a legal lease with our names on it, why we had a meeting with the bezirksschornsteinfegermeister (District Master Chimney Sweep) to get cable internet installed, and much more.

Oh and by the way, this whole process took a village – a village of friends in Berlin, a village for whom we are profoundly grateful. When people come to bat like all of our Berlin friends continually do, it underscores why we are magnetically drawn to them and to this place.

2) Does this mean that you’ll stop traveling?

Not at all.

In fact, we expect this year to be as busy as any other on the travel front. The primary difference is that we’ll often return to Berlin instead of temporary apartment-hunting elsewhere.

Our Home for the Next Couple of Months
Berlin skyline, a familiar view?

Throughout our journey, we’ve found that we need a little perspective to truly appreciate the power of travel and to not take it for granted. Our goal is, and has always been, to do justice to all that we see and experience, deliver more effectively to our audience, and — here’s the linchpin – to do it all while deliberately servicing the kind of life that we’d like to live together.

3) Why the change from a completely nomadic life?

This is another long and complicated one. We loved (and still love) how nomadic life provided us with so much flexibility and freedom. But after living this lifestyle for six years, we noticed both our personal and professional lives evolving and we needed a change. (Full disclosure: perhaps it was more me than Dan, but we’re a team here).

We wanted a bit more stability, a community of friends around us, a place to reflect and collect our thoughts from our travels, and to create something new, something more.

Sure, we could have continued with our previous lifestyle and put off addressing some of the difficult questions and feelings we were facing. That’s life drift. There’s no reward for being the Energizer Bunny who keeps going and going without reflection on where he’s going and why he might be doing it.

Let me also tell you, change is tough. This has not been an easy transition.

While finding and furnishing a flat may sound ordinary to many of you, we’ve gone well outside our comfort zone on this. It’s been so tempting to throw this idea away and hop on the next airplane to leave it all behind and to find a chicken bus to take us to the middle of nowhere, our usual yet unusual comfort zone.

There also remains a great deal of uncertainty with what we’re doing. We’re trying to have our cake and eat it, too. There are risks, including that this experiment could fail. And in the fullest of disclosure, one of our greatest fears in making and announcing this change is that we’ll disappoint our community.

But, we only have one life to live and that life goes quickly. And we wouldn’t be following all of our own personal growth advice if we did it any other way. Deliberate decisions. Not wondering “What if?

That’s the life we’d like to live.

4) Why Berlin?

We traveled all around the world and chose Berlin as a base. Why?

We like this city. A LOT. If you’ve ever visited Berlin, you’re nodding your head right now understanding the reasons why.

Berlin has a feel and vibe to it – entrepreneurial, creative, energetic, irreverent — that has drawn us in for the last three years. We also have a great group of friends here. The city felt like home with each of our recent visits and we always looked forward to returning. Each visit, we hoped to stay longer. This time we did.

(Note: We did get some grief by recently abandoning Berlin in its darkest hour, quite literally. Our February trip to New Zealand, during one of Berlin’s most sunshine-free interludes, drew cries of “You’re not really living in Berlin until you’ve lasted a full winter.” I think we even lost some of our Berlin friends after all those New Zealand photos on Facebook.)

This is what 100% chance of snow looks like in our Berlin 'hood. #stillwinter
Our street in Berlin. Still beautiful under a layer of snow.

Berlin is also very centrally located not only in Europe but also for access to Africa and the Middle East (two regions where we still have a lot of exploring to do). Additionally, it’s easy to get to the United States and Asia as well. And with the new airport opening up next year (hopefully, chuckles coming from the local crowd), the city will be even more connected than it is now.

Furthermore, Berlin seemed to offer us a combination of ease of work-life, infrastructure (we currently have 100Mbps internet), all at an expense level that worked for us. Not to mention, Berlin’s food scene and its abundance of fresh markets.  Friends who visit come away amazed by how well and inexpensively one can eat in Berlin (if you know where to look) particularly when compared with other European destinations.

5) But you’re American. How can you live in Germany?

Americans are allowed spend up to 180 days in the Schengen region within one year on an ordinary tourist visa. However, we didn’t want to take chances and be limited in when and how we could return to our flat in Berlin. So we applied for a residence permit to live here legally.

And just a few days before we flew to New Zealand, we learned that the German authorities said yes. Shocking! And for two years, which for first time residence permit applications submitted by American freelancers, is surprisingly long. After two years, we can renew. How we navigated the bureaucracy to procure this is for another long piece in the form of a post or ebook.

6) Will Uncornered Market change?

No. If anything, Uncornered Market will continue to expand its scope of life and learning through the lens of travel.

Franz Josef Glacier Hike - New Zealand
There’s a big world to explore…

Although we have a base in Berlin, Uncornered Market will not turn into a Berlin expat blog. It will continue to be a travel and life inspiration blog focused on following curiosity to explore and learn about oneself and the world. So expect the same sort of travel, human interest, food, personal growth, and humorous dispatches coming from all corners of the world.

Frankly, our hope is that with a bit more time and space, we can improve the quality and expand the volume of our content. As one of our friends often remarks, “I can tell when you’re taking a break from the road because the quality of your writing improves.” It’s always been our goal to improve and to grow.

That’s one of the reasons why we’ve made this decision.

Shift happens. We hope you’ll embrace it with us.

Base Flying at Alexander Platz, Berlin
Shift happens. Sometimes 180-degrees.

—–
As always, we appreciate your support of our journey – in travel and life — and all the twists and turns it has taken over time.

Have any other questions? Ask away in the comments!

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Comments

  1. says

    I’m so nodding my head because I knoooow Berlin rocks!
    I would move there, if it wasn’t for the harsh winter.
    Can abrely deal with the winters in Belgium, so I’m not moving up east!
    But I’m sure you guys will have the best times in Berlin. That city just has so much to offer!

  2. says

    I’m ecstatic for you guys! What a terrific transition! Over the years of travel, it’s true that the people can make the place, and if you’ve got great people in Berlin than it sounds like an ideal base to me!

    I’m sure it’s not easy settling in – I understand the reluctance to stocking an apartment with furniture, etc! I agree with you totally though, that having a stable base will make such a difference in your quality of life. It sounds like a great move to me!

    And kuddos on getting the 100mb internet – that bezirksschornsteinfegermeister sounds dreamy. :)

  3. says

    Love this as it provides a unique and totally understandable perspective to my Suitcase Entrepreneur book. And especially as I too am going to put down roots, for at least 2-3 months in Berlin – so yes you can tell your story over a drink with me.

    Love seeing the photos too, makes me realise any doubt in coming there to `mini settle’ which I also had cold feet about is just silly

    Looking forward to seeing you and congrats on knowing what’s important to you and having a sense of place

    Nat

  4. says

    No disappointment at all. The phrase about needing time to reflect rather than being the Energizer bunny is so true. Excited for the new stage of Uncornered Market.

  5. Katie Hammel says

    Nodding my head. I’m so happy for you (and more than a little jealous) but now I can hope that when I come back to Berlin next you’ll actually be in town! Congrats and hugs from San Francisco!

  6. Oliver says

    I wholeheartedly embrace and support you guys. Having a home base is a great thing. Home, no matter where it is, is where the heart is. Have some down time is always good and a warm and comfortable place to do helps. And most certainly you have to do what, what you have to do be happy. As long as you guys are happy, I sure the community will support you! As always thankful for sharing your thoughts with us. :). Rock on and thrive! :)

  7. says

    Congrats on the German residency. That’s some big time news!

    We’ve found that having a home base has actually helped us enjoy the travel experience so much more… and appreciate it on a deeper level. It’s hard to find the perfect balance, but it’s been fun trying!

    We look forward to seeing how this next chapter is written for you guys

  8. says

    This is so exciting! I’m really happy you guys have chosen such awesome city to call a home :) looking forward to hearing about your new Berlin lifestyle!

  9. says

    Fantastic for you guys! We are also moving towards having a home base (also in Europe) and Berlin is on the shortlist, although after our last frosty week there I’d say Italy is edging it out…

  10. Toby says

    Great news, as I’m a German and know the quality of living in Germany ;) Berlin is the perfect city for foreigners and you will probably not want to leave after 2 years!

    You might want to check out this project of one my best friends: http://www.likealocalguide.com/ They are going to publish a Berlin map soon.

  11. says

    Congrats Audrey and Dan! I hope you feel the swarm of support from your community. Your life is first and foremost about you and we are lucky to share in your adventures. I can’t wait to hear how everything shapes up for you two. I know it can only mean bigger and better things. Good luck with the transition and enjoy being home!

  12. says

    How exciting! While we fall in the expat/lots of travel camp (and not the nomad life), I have to say that, as one of your followers, disappointing is the furthest thought from my mind. There is nothing more inspiring than witnessing your transition. Our views, thoughts, goals, etc. all shift based on our experiences and it is great to watch yours guide you. Enjoy every second of the transition. We are headed to Austria and Poland this year, but when I do make it to Berlin I want to sit down for a pint to hear the whole story. ;) Cheers!

  13. says

    As a long-time reader and fan of your blog, I’m really excited to read this post. Berlin has been my home for the last five years and I’m one of the main writers for Slow Travel Berlin, a website you recommended in your Berlin roundup (thanks, by the way!)

    I’d love to finally have the chance to meet you both personally and welcome you to your permanent home in this fabulous city. Please get in touch when you have time!

  14. Laurie says

    Can’t wait to see how the future unfolds for you guys! I am very happy for you and, as a fairly long-term reader, support your decision to live wherever and however you like! And…Berlin is awesome. What a wonderful base. Congratulations!

  15. Sutapa says

    I completely agree with you about Berlin. And I’d love to hear your stories about how you applied and got the German residency visa. Congratulations!! So happy for you. Also, I loved your writing. So yes, staying somewhere semi-permanently makes one a better writer (and thinker?).

  16. says

    This is wonderful! It seems that everyone and their mother is moving to Berlin these days…but for good reason! Me and my partner may be among the ranks soon too! Really looking forward to seeing how this pans out for you guys. All the best!

  17. says

    Very exciting! Lots of changes going on! I imagine after a certain amount of time all traveleres and bloggers start to feel the need to have at least a semi-base and it’s very impressive that you have only gotten that itch after an incredibly long 6 years of travel! Good for you guys! We hear amazing things about Berlin from everyone who has been there and are looking forward to exploring it this summer! Hopefully we can meet up too!

  18. Violeta says

    I had to check the date on this post thinking it must be an old one. I am not surprised at all, it seemed pretty obvious to me that this is where you were heading. Actually I thought you established a base in Berlin awhile back. I also think it is great you let yourselves take a different course. And I bet more changes are coming :-).

  19. says

    welcome to Germany and congrats on the visa. wing through the paperwork is an accomplishment. Excited to read this for personal reasons as well. We are moving to a mobile life with homepage as well but from the otherwise of being totally stable. A big and exciting change for all.
    CLet us know if you want to come see Freiburg. Would love to hang out if we are in town.

  20. says

    oh super! Happy for you two.. and glad to hear that Umarket will keep on being nomadic in nature though you’ve got a new home in Berlin! Maybe kids in the pipeline?! “D wishing u and dan de best :D

  21. says

    Congratulations on the change – I hope (and trust)that it will wokr out well for you both. Enjoy Berlin and having a base!

  22. says

    Wow. Overwhelmed by all the responses and awesome support. Thank you!

    @Sofie: I hear you about winter. Part of our “base in Berlin” strategy is to be sure we leave for warm climates several times throughout a winter. This past year it was Nicaragua in December and New Zealand in February. But yes, Berlin is a great city any time of the year!

    @Jennifer: You got it. After running from one place to another, it was time to have a place of our own to return to and recharge. Just hope we never take it for granted.

    @Bessie: Couldn’t agree more that it’s the people who make a place. And don’t worry, Dan’s got quite a funny story drafted about the whole bezirksschornsteinfegermeister story. We couldn’t have made it up the story if we had tried! The challenge now is to keep a similar minimalist/traveler mindset with the comforts of home. Trying to have our cake & eat it too :)

    @Natalie: Look forward to sharing the full story over a beer in Berlin soon. And I have no doubt that you’ll love your 2-3 months here.

    @Jo: Is it funny what one fears sometimes? We were worried about disappointing a group of people looking at us living “the dream” from traveling all the time…when the dream is really about living the life that’s write for you. Sometimes one needs a little space to get perspective. We’re also looking forward to this new stage!

    @Katie: Can imagine that you could relate to all of this. We also hope that we’ll be in town next time you & Dan visit. Have lots of fun places in the neighborhood to show you guys!

    @Oliver: Thank you – we love your support and connection with what we are doing. And you’re right – home is where one’s heart is and where one feels a connection, even it has nothing to do with where one is born.

    @Cam: The German residence visa was no easy matter. Lots of stressful days trying to get all the paperwork in order. And now we get to go through a similar ordeal with German taxes. Ah, the joy of bureaucracy!

    But yes, having some space from the travel allows us to really appreciate it and be “on” when we are on the road. We look forward to writing this next chapter…we’ll see where it goes ;)

    @Flora: We’ve been smitten with Berlin for a while so all of our friends here predicted this move years before we had even considered it. There is a certain pull of this city…

    @Steph: While Berlin can be a bit brutal in winter, it is lovely in spring and summer and fall. But, it is hard to beat the city you’re looking at – Bologna – for food and quality of life as well. Hard choice!

    @Stephanie: We have been overwhelmed by the positive support and warmth of the community – both with online comments and with the private messages we are getting. It’s really been wonderful. We’ve got so many ideas and plans right now…so the trick is now to focus!

    @Lori: Thanks so much for your kind comment and support. It took a while to get to this decision. Then, making it a reality really was tough with the challenges of finding a long-term flat and convincing a German landlord to trust us (not easy!)…and then getting the German authorities to allow us to stay. There were many nights where we wanted to give up, but we’re glad we didn’t and persevered. Look forward to sharing the full story over a drink one day.

    @Giulia: Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting! We love Slow Travel Berlin and use it often for inspiration and advice on great things to see and do in the city. We are off to Warsaw/Prague for a week, but let’s try to get together later in March/April.

    @Laurie: The challenge we have now is to focus — too many things we want to do! Thanks for your support and we’re excited to take what we do to the next level!

    @Sutapa: As we went through this whole process of finding a flat and figuring out the German visa we weren’t completely public with it because we weren’t sure it would work out. It was a long process of about 4 months, but we’re glad it worked out! And yes, there’s something about being still and not running around with a day full of observations and new experiences that allows us to (hopefully) write better. That’s the goal that we’re working towards. As always, thanks for your support and sharing your thoughts.

    @Sam: Berlin definitely has a magnetic pull for a lot of people. Let us know if you’re in town :)

    @Vicky: We’ve gone through stages with this itch in the past, but it usually went away after being still for a couple of months. Then last year, it didn’t go away and we had to address it and ask a few questions. Berlin was the natural choice for us.

    @Violeta: Yes, we’ve been coming to Berlin often over the last few years so it’s natural that you would think we already had a base here. What we learned – in a somewhat painful way – is that it’s one thing to hang out in Berlin a few months, it’s another to legally live here (as Americans). Took almost 6 months from start to finish, from finding a flat to getting our residency. But, we did it! We’re also excited about future changes.

    @Andrew: We’re not out of the clear yet with German bureaucracy and paperwork – we still have to figure out the Finantzamt & taxes :) Change is scary, but exciting. Congrats on your big change as well! And, let us know if you guys are coming through Berlin one of these days.

    @Ciki: That’s the goal – that Umarket will still be nomadic in spirit and adventure, but with a place to process all of those experiences to create something more. Don’t bring up the idea of kids…my mother will never stop asking then :)

    @Talon: You’ll have to get to Berlin one of these days! We haven’t met, but from what I know of you online I think you’d really enjoy the city.

    @Abi: It’s funny how now that we have a base we keep getting invitations to go everywhere…trying to make ourselves stay still to enjoy this moment. Focus. Focus. We also hope everything works out…and we don’t drown in German bureaucracy :)

  23. says

    @Michael: We’re hoping to stick around for a bit, but one never knows. Life sometimes moves in mysterious ways :) The transition will hopefully be a bit easier for you guys once you have your Italian citizenship. One less bureaucratic hurdle to jump through to live in the EU legally. Enjoy it!!

  24. Sutapa says

    If I had the choice, I would live in Berlin too. You know so many things in the US now frustrates me – not being able to see any gun laws passed, not being able to see any progress as far as budgets and deficits (but balancing in a sustainable way), and climate change? I mean that is in permanent impasse. The US may be a leading power but it can’t get anything done. In Germany, even conservatives and of course liberals and Greens are in one mind that Germany must be able to be self-sufficient in energy and do it in a renewable way. I would live in Berlin for those reason alone. But you of course have your own reasons. But being able to open a TV show and be happy to see something getting done would make me very happy.

  25. says

    You guys are a role model for long-term travel and I am looking forward to seeing how you navigate this next phase in your journey. From your past posts and stories, it sounds like Berlin has a vibrant community and is a good place to keep your creativity alive while allowing you to really take the time and perspective to work on the projects and ideas you’ve talked about that have sparked from your travels these past few years. :)

  26. says

    Excellent and honest post!

    Sometimes it’s just nice to actually unpack, isn’t it?! You can still pick up and go as you like (you’re not tied down with a 9-5 job, and you haven’t purchased a home), so that’s great. I think everyone needs a break from travel once in a while to recharge and regroup.

    Cheers!

  27. says

    I’m a bit biased here because I prefer having a home base than being a nomad (tried that for a few months, hated it). That said, one of the gifts of travel is its capacity to transform us and shape us. We grow as we travel and you are obviously moving to the next level

  28. Charlie Undeland says

    Ha, now we have more reason to go to Berlin! Never really thought that it would be to visit you two. ;-) I’m sure that it will be wonderful for you, as you make goodness out of whereever you are. Still waiting for you in Sri Lanka… we’ll be here for a little while yet. Charlie@Vavuniya (today)

  29. says

    Congratulations! Navigating foreign bureaucracy is no easy thing, well done on getting that residency permit. After visiting Berlin for the first time in January (and helped by your tips, thank you) I can see why you’ve chosen it ad a base. I hope to return when the weather’s warmer, perhaps our paths will cross there one day. Best wishes for the next chapter in your story.

  30. says

    Excellent decision! The writing improvement aspect is what appealed to me most, plus becoming at least a part-time local. We now have one foot in Bangkok and another in Madison, WI. That may not sound as exotic to some, but I am driven mad a bit by the former (plus it’s an outstanding home base for Asian travel) and the latter has a 1000 good reasons… for me. And that brings me to my point. A lot of us left the cubicle or whatever, left the ordinary, to live outside of a box only to run into other expectations and labels. Are you REALLY a nomad? Are you a traveler or a tourist? Are you a travel WRITER or BLOGGER? BACKPACKER or FLASHPACKER? Oh my, I ALWAYS stay in a hostel. And on and on. I hate every one of those labels. Been making things up since 1997 and still often can’t answer how much time we spend here or there “usually” or what we do “each year.” The pattern is still emerging — if there is one. While I know nothing of Berlin, I love your idea! I’m thinking to find a third base and just rotate through the world with short trips out of each in between. I look back on the travels and the very best years were the years I put up a home base in one particular place. Congratulations!

  31. says

    I must say, Berlin is a great place to live, with nice people and lifestyle. Being a nomad means that you will not live in a permanent place and adventure is always on your side.

  32. says

    @Sutapa: Politics in the States do frustrate me, but I also know from our German friends that their politics certainly has its share of problems as well. There is a certain quality of life that comes from being able to use one’s bicycle everywhere, having great public transport and little markets/shops on every street. But also, not having a television helps as well :)

    @Shannon: You described Berlin (and our relationship with it) perfectly – a place that continues to inspire us and push our creativity, but also to be still and get some perspective. Right now the challenge is to focus…and not to try and tackle everything at once.

    @Dariece: Thanks, glad you enjoyed this post. Yes, sometimes it is good to unpack and get a little space and time to reflect and enjoy. And you’re right, we still do have flexibility to get up and go when we need to.

    @Prime: “We grow as we travel” – love that. So true. And life evolves. Better to evolve with it than to fight for something of the past.

    @Rebecca: Berlin’s a popular place :) We’ve been coming here the last three summers to work, so we’ve written a bit about the place if you’re interested: http://www.uncorneredmarket.com/tag/berlin/

    @Charlie: We look forward to welcoming you in Berlin! But, I’d probably wait until the summer as winter can be brutal. We still have Sri Lanka on the brain, but it may be next year. Trying to figure out this travel/work/still balance :)

    @Rachel: Although it’s technically spring, the weather in Berlin is still frigid. I agree that next visit should be in the summer or fall (September) – everyone is outside in parks enjoying every moment of the sunshine and warmth. Glad our posts helped with your last Berlin visit!

    @Kevin: Dan and I loved your comment and what you wrote about labels and running into “non-conformist conformity” outside the cubicle. We also enjoy the aspect of being a part-time local – we had that for a few months in cities around the world, but always knew we were leaving so didn’t develop the relationships like we are doing now in Berlin. We do hope that we can transition from the bureaucracy of getting all this to work to more writing and bigger projects. Thanks again for sharing.

    @Ernest: We definitely don’t see giving up adventure anytime soon. In fact, living in Berlin rather promotes it :)

  33. says

    @Lauren: We’ve got a few plans for this idea, don’t worry! We’ll let you know when the “how we got a residence permit and flat in Berlin” information is out.

  34. says

    Berlin is an excellent place to live! Be sure to rent (or buy since you’re living there) bikes once the weather is nice, and ride all-around town. It’s the best way to see the city – hands down!

  35. says

    Some day I’ll tell you a story about buying a washing machine in Austria and how we had a huge and really stupid row about it. It involved me saying, “We can’t own a washing machine! That will mean I LIVE here.”

    A red couch of your own. How lovely. I hope you enjoy it tremendously.

  36. says

    @Paul: We love biking in this city!! Buying bicycles were one of the first things we did when we got to Berlin last year. So fun to see how the neighborhoods flow and change from atop a bike.

    @Pam: Look forward to hearing that story and am smiling since I know EXACTLY what you mean. There were a lot of such discussions over the last few months. But now we have a red couch (err, green) of our own that we do enjoy tremendously. Hope you come visit it someday!

    @Adam: Not everyone likes Berlin as it’s not a traditionally “beautiful” city, but it has a great energy and feel to it. As much as we loved New Zealand, it would be difficult to live there and still travel lots – it’s just so far away!

  37. says

    Audrey, What a journey. We left Los Angeles July 2012 thinking we would be gone for one year. It is nearly 18 months and we are so happy. Your story makes me think we could be on the road for 6 years and then have a post like this when we find a city where we want to have an apartment again.
    ENJOY having a flat and KEYS! That is so odd!
    Lisa Niver Rajna
    We Said Go Travel

  38. says

    @Lisa: Isn’t it funny how journeys have a way of taking on a life of their own that go beyond what you could have imagined before you started? Everyone moves at a different pace and maybe you’ll never want keys again. Although, I do admit that it is kind of nice to still have keys :)

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