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09 Jan

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Out with the old, in with the new

January 9, 2013 | By |

Over the last few weeks I’ve traveled from Berlin to Boston (via London), up the coast to Ipswich, back down to Boston (a couple of times), then Berlin (via Madrid), down south to the Black Forest to clear our out old family house, back to Berlin, to Hamburg and back, and now I’m about to head to the airport to fly to Buenos Aires with M. By the time we’re back I’ll have close to 40.000 km (as the crow flies) under my belt in less than eight weeks.

Phew. I’m not sure how I feel about that, even though the trips themselves are all pretty much fantastic.

Out with the old

One of these trips led me back to where I was born, a lovely little backwater town called Bad Herrenalb. It’s a town of a few thousand inhabitants (7.5K, including the “suburbs”), grown out of a monestary, so it was founded some 860 years ago (Wikipedia), and has some strange claims to fame. For one, it was awarded city status (despite its miniature size) early on, in 1887, by the (regional) king, and as the mayor once mentioned when I was at the city hall as part of a city-engages-with-the-youth initiative along with the other citizens that had turned 18, Bad Herrenalb featured at the time the highest quota of residents aged 65+ in the state. That, needless to say, doesn’t even begin to tell the average age in town at any given time: Herrenalb is a spa town favored primarily by the elderly. We sometimes joked that Herrenalb was like the setting for an inverted Soylent Green – there, those under 30 would be fed upon, not the other way round.

Bad jokes aside, as a kid it was a fantastic place to grow up. To go into the Black Forest – the actual Black Forest – it was a 5 minute walk. Less, if I sneaked through our neighbors’ garden, as there was only one row of houses between ours and the forest. The tap water wasn’t just potable, but of absolutely top-notch quality as it more or less came straight from the source, in a region where water from these sources is exported and sold at a premium. As kids, at night we could sneak into the open pool of the local thermal spring, where year-round the water would come out of the mountain source at a solid 35 degrees celsius. I remember a night where we were maybe 16, 17 years old, and in mid-winter we sneaked into said pool, cold beer in hand despite maybe 20 cm of snow all around, and sat there in the hot spa in the middle of the night. Not a sound to be heard, until someone else surprised us: a researcher from New Zealand, just arrived that day, who was on a research project to learn about the trees of the Black Forest, and on his way back home had stumbled unto the same pool. We shared beers and stories, and I’m pretty certain at that age I hadn’t met anyone from that far away. (Come to think of it, I probably still haven’t met people from further away – New Zealand is pretty much at the opposite end of the globe.)

Of course, that was back in the days ™ when security wasn’t big on the agenda. In fact, there wasn’t even a real fence at the time, just a line of bushes we had to wade through. By now, I’m sure, there must be motion sensors and whatnot; but this is a very, very small town we’re talking of, and at that time security wasn’t really much of an issue there.

Long story short, I went back there on a family errand. In one long day, I jumped on a train down there from Berlin (takes about 6.5 hours door to door), and cleared out the things I still wanted to keep as the house I grew up in gets new inhabitants. It’s something I had always put off, just taking bits and pieces along with me over the years, leaving much behind as I’ve been moving around a lot since I left that home. It’s a bit of an odd feeling, going through the stuff that defined signified so much of who I was at the time – and looking at it now, so much of who I am no more, how much has changed. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed my youth a great deal (within the framework of the usual caveats), and I greatly enjoy my life today. Still, this ritual of clearing out boxes from when you were five, twelve, seventeen years old triggers melancholy and introspection.

I was glad I was on a strict schedule – about three hours was all I had before jumping on the train back, and my sister was there as well, going through the same ritual. In the end, the things we settled for kind of surprised me despite making the choices myself. Some photos; a stamp collection (What can one do with a stamp collection? It’s not even a great one, yet I couldn’t throw it out?); a few bits and pieces that once belonged to my grandfather I never consciously met, or my mom, or my dad, and that would otherwise be thrown out, or small presents I had received from people I love. (Among them, a few pieces of the Berlin Wall, chiseled out by my late aunt herself, in an act I’m sure I would have found quite touristy at the time, had I thought in those terms then, but now I really appreciate.)

So many things couldn’t make the cut, as my life is too mobile, too little based anywhere with the capacity to store things, so it was mostly taking pictures of things, in the hope that digital photos might be easier to keep and store and maintain, than atoms.

So with a suitcase of past I headed back to Berlin, with a few days left to prepare our trip to Argentina, and wrap up a whole slew of meetings, as you do before leaving town for awhile.

In with the new

So instead of banking on old memory clutches, I will instead try and focus to make new experiences, new memories. That’s why M and I are headed for Buenos Aires. We’ll live and work there for about a month. Because we can: We’re priviliged in that peculiar way of the tech nomad, we can work from wherever we wish as long as there’s a decent connection. I’m (somewhat painfully) aware that it’s a thing that’s far from granted even in this decade, and it might not last. So whenever the opportunity arises, in the gaps between big events that require physical presence onsite, and obligations like more traditional employment (if that kind of thing really still exists) or family or whatnot, we decided to make the most of it and go with the flow. So we’ll spend part of the winter in the south in a place neither of us has been, but that supposedly is interesting and gorgeous and well-connected (in terms of the web). A place, in other words, that allows us to do our jobs, and do them well, and meet interesting new folks while we’re at it.

It’s been a while since I last did a trip like this one – in 2009 or 2010 I believe, when I spent a month living in New York. So far, I’ve always enjoyed this kind of thing a lot, and I have every reason to believe that I won’t grow bored of it anytime soon.

So here’s to a month of new experiences.