He looks up at me and smiles. "Miss Young?!" It sounds like he's asking a question. I pause. "Yes?!" He smiles and nods, and I realize I like Germany already.
My brother meets me and we drive through the outskirts of the city. Even though I expected them, I'm still shocked by the dull communist buildings. I can't help but find them ugly, but I appreciate that it tells a part of Berlin's story and am curious what else I'll find here.
My brother lives in East Berlin in a small modern apartment. I freshen up and drink a cold Club Mate before we hit the streets, stopping into a small clean coffee shop for cappuccinos.
In the shops people smile unobtrusively, I nod and say "Halo," the little German I know, and am pleasantly surprised when people don't reply in English. There aren't many places I can travel and pretend to be a local with my bright blonde hair.
We walk for hours and every street is different. Some buildings are new and modern, some are old communist, some are beautiful and European, and many are covered head to toe in graffiti.
The shops are warm and inviting, the fashion is practical and unpretentious, there is no shortage of good coffee shops and restaurants and I love the design of the clothing, the furniture and the interiors of spaces. Everything is thoughtful but logical, clean and organized. This suits my desires.
My favourite store is a gourmet food boutique full of tables that each display one recipe surrounded by all of the ingredients you need to make it. It is so clever that I go from table to table admiring the individually packed spices and butter in perfect portions and wonder how I didn't think of this myself. I love the idea.
That night we walk through the rain to the glowing Currywurst stand. Older women in plain uniforms ask us "With or without skin?" My brother orders and we get two sliced sausages, without skin, with fries, mayonnaise, ketchup, and of course, curry powder. We go into the small tent next to the stand and sit next to others with our plates. It is simple and satisfying. I'm full half way through and save room for the snacks we've bought for later.
During my short visit everything I eat is simple and satisfying. I question my use of so much sauce and spice at home. If I were to make things better would they need so much excess seasoning? The omelette I eat for brunch the next morning is so perfectly made I add nothing to it. The duck fat fries I eat with my dinner are so crispy and salty that even ketchup would seem a sin.
The trip flies by effortlessly. We walk a lot and I tell my brother it's an easy city to be in. Normally if I spend a day out in a city I return home exhausted. I'm an introvert and too many people and too much energy drains me. But everyone seems to respect each others space here. The energy is calm and all of our exchanges seem polite and respectful. I feel comfortable.
More than anything I enjoy being with my brother. His company is also comfortable, and it makes me happy to see where he spends his days. When we meet up with my friend I see the wonderful life she has created here for herself. I love that we can travel around the world and find home in another culture.
I leave Berlin full. Full of good food, gratitude, memories, thrill and the comfort of knowing there's another place I can go and just be.