Slow travel's Berlin chapter

Advocates of slow travel argue that all too often the potential pleasure of the journey is lost by too eager anticipation of arrival. Slow travel, it is asserted, is a state of mind which allows travellers to engage more fully with communities along their route, often favouring visits to spots enjoyed by local residents rather than merely following guidebooks

This is what Wikipedia says about the philosophy behind slow travel movement, and it’s a philosophy we here at PocketCultures completely identify with – as we aim to relate culture from all over the world through the voices of our local contributors.

I found myself positively surprised when discovering that there is even a local chapter of slow travel in one of the hippest European capitals, Berlin. Or maybe I should not be surprised at all, because if there’s one city in Europe that has it all, it must be Berlin.

Trabbi in Berlin
Image by Genial23

I passed some questions about Slow Travel Berlin to main man and initiator Paul Sullivan, British writer and photographer living in Berlin.

We understand the concept of Slow Travel – what is the idea behind Slow Travel Berlin? Is it a slow travel group blog, an aggregator website for all other things slow travel, or just food for thought for Berliners to take it slow?

It’s really just a local chapter of the Slow Travel movement. I took the philosophy of Slow Travel and applied it to the city I’m living in – Berlin – as a way of encouraging visitors and residents alike to explore and engage with their surroundings more. I’ve been travelling more or less constantly for a decade or so, and long ago realised that the key to a more satisfying travel experience is simply to take your time – spend longer in a place, explore its hidden corners, engage with the local community, settle into the local pace.

As a travel journalist/photographer I’ve worked on many guidebooks (Time Out, Cool Camping, HG2) whereby I have a limited amount of time (and budget) to ‘discover’ a city and present its best components. While this is a fun challenge, it’s also sometimes frustrating. Slow Travel Berlin allows me the luxury of exploring the city at the pace I choose. As well as a lack of time restrictions I also have no real word count limitations or editorial influence, so I can treat the various things we cover – cafes, parks, museums, local creatives, wine shops, ‘psychogeographic’ explorations – the way I want (i.e. more in-depth). I can delve into books about Berlin, books by Berliners, historical events and people, personal memoirs…there are no real boundaries. Hopefully this all creates a deeper, broader picture of the city than you’d get with a conventional guidebook or even an online site.

Who is contributing?

Initially it was just myself and my partner Kirstin Gernath, who has a background in marketing and communications. But we now have a growing network of local and talented ex-pat writers who live in the city and are into the idea and style of the site — people like Kevin Braddock, a contributing editor at GQ and founder of the excellent Manzine; Wyndham Wallace, who writes for the Guardian, The Quietus, More Intelligent Life and others; William Thirteen, who has written for Unlike and Gridskipper; David Tinning, a local DJ who is helping us champion the city’s vinyl outlets; Peggy Schatz, who runs the excellent Multikulinarisch. As much as I love writing for STB, I think a site like this needs a multitude of voices and perspectives to help reflect the multi-faceted nature of the city.

Is it comparable to websites that promote a more slow approach to travel, local food etc. and rely on locals to write reviews, or are your readers travelers with more time on their hands to explore a destination?

To be honest I’m not entirely sure we have any stereotypical reader. The majority come from Germany, but the stats show a very large percentage of readers from the States, the UK and pretty much everywhere in the world. We translate most of the articles into German, so I think the site appeals to people visiting Berlin, ex-pats living in Berlin, original Berliners, Germans outside of Berlin…pretty much anyone with an interest in the city, though perhaps especially those who have an interest in our main categories such as food, art and culture, history, family…

More about Berlin and your own motivation: how long have you been living in Berlin now? And has your impression of the city changed since you moved there, as opposed to being a visitor?

I first came here around a decade ago to cover the music scene (I’m a music writer also). I then returned in 2007 for a few weeks to write the HG2 Berlin guidebook and was quite surprised at how much had changed and how much I really liked the city. I was living in Cologne with my partner at the time, and by the end of that 2008 work trip I knew I wanted to move here. We finally made the move in December 2008, with our brand new baby – and haven’t looked back. The city has gotten better and better the more we explore it and learn about its history and nuances and different areas. The city always surprises – always new art spaces to visit, new lakes to relax by, new bars and clubs cropping up…

Berlin really feels full of ideas and possibilities and people seem unafraid to try things, an attitude seemingly aided by a very relaxed local government. There’s bureaucracy of course, but it doesn’t have the same CCTV-infested Big Brother feel of cities like London or New York. The special atmosphere here is of course created by its distinctive history: the insane turbulence of the last century, the fact there are only 4 million people here, the influence of decades of Communism in the East. That’s by no means to say it’s an urban Utopia – far from it – but it does create a unique, creative and relaxed metropolitan environment that stands in stark contrast to many other major cities in Western Europe.

Berlin is one of the most described and documented cities in the world, online and offline – does the versed traveller need another niche-website?

A good question, and one I pondered myself for around a year before finally taking the plunge. The reason I decided to go for it is that I genuinely felt we could cover aspects of the city not already being covered – or being only minimally covered – elsewhere. With my background in music journalism (especially electronic music) it would have been easy to do something club or party related in the city, but other people were and are already doing that very well. Similarly with fashion and other ‘cool’ takes on the city – hipster nodes like Bang Bang Berlin, Sugarhigh and Unlike, as well as my own guidebooks like HG2 Berlin, have that side of things down pat.

The Slow concept is perfect as it allows me to explore the city in a different way to all these enterprises. If these other sites represent the exciting, neon-lit, non-stop party that is Trendy Berlin, we try to offer something like a next-day or mid-week chill out event. While party people flying in to party all weekend at Bar 25 or Berghain might not be our main audience, I suspect many still want to know about a relaxed Sunday brunch option, a park to fall asleep in (or have a BBQ in) or an off-the-beaten-path stroll. I don’t think we’re essential to the city by any means — no guide is, and in fact we like the idea of people discarding all kinds of guides and just mooching around and discovering the city like the Parisian flaneurs, or the modern psychogegraphers. But I do think we provide a slightly different perspective, and as long as people are reading and enjoying our posts we’ll continue sharing our explorations and discoveries.

Read more:
Irish and German attitudes to art, compared
‘The awful German language’ – confessions of a language learner
Dedicated follower of Chinglish

About the author

Marcel Krueger
Marcel is a German expat living in Ireland and working for an online company with a colourfull logo. He loves doing stuff with words, and did not go to school to learn this. He likes Heavy Metal and trains and dislikes many other things. He is so old he still buys CD’s, but has not yet caught up with the idea of becoming an adult.
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3 Comments

  • This made for an interesting read. I would love to come across some such slow travel chapter for Netherlands too.

  • Slow is a great way to travel. You soak in so much more. To me it is the opposite of the superficial dash through the touristy places. I had rather sit down and talk with a local than dash off to the next place to see. One of my best journeys to date has been a really slow train that stopped at every wayside station and took around seven hours to cover around hundred miles.

  • I’m definitely a slow traveller. Sanjay, some of my best travel memories are long train rides through India. I learnt so much more about India that way than by touring the sights.