This Free-Spirited City Defies Definition

Photo: Courtesy of Kate Titus.
On May 24, 2014, my fiancé, Andy, and I got married in New York City. A week later, we hopped on a plane with two carry-on suitcases and two one-way tickets to Paris. We had just pressed pause on our careers, sublet our apartment, moved all of our things into storage. The only plan was to have no plans at all — and we ended up traveling for 394 days through 25 countries, stopping in nearly 100 destinations. Over the next few weeks, come along on this crazy journey to learn more about how we did it — packing, plotting, budgeting — and see some of the tens of thousands of photos we took along the way.

After Austria, our plan was to travel by train to the Czech Republic and visit Prague. Around this time, Andy was also starting to research the paperwork we would need to acquire for our tourist visas for India. We looked into applying for visas before we left, but since we had no itinerary at that point, it would have been nearly impossible. Most applications require you to state exactly when you’ll be arriving in the country, how long you’ll be staying, the address you’ll be staying at, etc. Also, the length of time you’re allowed to stay in the country can vary greatly. Some visas expire within months of receiving them and some are good for years.

In his research, Andy learned that the applications could take up to seven business days to process. Meaning you hand over your passport (while they send it to god-knows-where) and hang out in a foreign country with no international form of identification. Eeee! We needed to be in one place long enough to get our passports back safely, with plenty of buffer time, so we chose to skip Prague and head straight to Berlin, where we submitted our visa application the day after we arrived. After a few rounds of suspicious questioning ("Why are you applying for Indian Americans?") we were asked to make a few revisions to our paperwork and come back. We needed to process the application that day, so we found a random bar down the street with free Wi-Fi, took new headshots of ourselves against a white wall on the street, and sneaked into a hotel to print our documents for free. After over a week of back-and-forth, we secured our Indian tourist visas. Success!
We ended up staying in Berlin for 10 days and really fell in love with the city. So much of it reminded us of New York City — the multiculturalism, the international cuisine, the spirit of creativity, and the overall grit. But at the same time, there is no other place like it. This is a city that has changed so much in the last century that you’re reminded of its history around every turn. This is a city that was nearly leveled by bombings — its famous monuments are still riddled with bullet holes — and literally ripped in half in the last 60 years and put back together. Residents have been able to take the many reminders of their tragic past and turn them into beauty: War bunkers that have become art museums and Nazi airports that have become parks that encourage community and creativity.

Nothing felt contrived in Berlin. Everything seemed to have a story. It felt raw, authentic, free-spirited, and slightly lawless.

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