September 13, 2013
I first came to Berlin in 1999 to interview some musicians for a UK magazine. It was deep winter and the city was obscured behind a constant veil of drizzle. Everything was slate-grey and no one smiled. I quite liked it actually, though I didn’t feel compelled to move here. I returned again almost a decade later, in summer 2007, to work on a guidebook and discovered a completely different place — well, we all know how summer is here compared to winter. By December 2008 I was a Berlin resident along with my partner and our young son, and I haven’t looked back since. The move here was fundamental in opening up a whole new way of living in and exploring cities for me, hence the formation of Slow Travel Berlin in 2010.
Having worked as a travel writer/photographer and guidebook author for a few years, I was bored and frustrated with the way the same soundbites/places were regurgitated endlessly; so I decided to start something that would allow me to go beyond the usual restrictions of guidebooks: no word counts, no deadlines and a commitment to the more sociological or experiential sides of a city (as opposed to only writing about its commercial elements). I also wanted to create something inclusive, that didn’t limit itself to one social demographic – something deliberately “uncool”. These ideas were, and still are, very much against the grain in terms of online travel content, but we have managed to flourish, not least because of the open-mindedness of our readers and the enthusiasm and talents of our many contributors. There are now over 20 of us working on the project on a (very) casual basis, and we run a weekly listings newsletter, have produced our first book and run cultural-historical tours. We’ve also started Slow Travel projects in other cities like Stockholm and Reykavik (coming soon). These are run by talented friends (Lola and Vala respectively) who have complete editorial independence, so they’ll evolve slightly different to Berlin despite continuing the underlying ethos and themes. It’s very exciting to see what’ll happen.
As for Berlin, there are so many things that keep me intrigued and enthralled about the city that I really can’t think about living anywhere else. Aside from the obvious, well-documented things – abundant space, a spirit of tolerance, a relatively low population, an excellent cycling network and public transport links, easy access to a countryside dominated by forests and lakes, a largely independent/DIY infrastructure – there are more complex and nuanced attractions. The hidden stories and eccentric characters, the dark, twisted history and the unexpected delights of the city’s interzones and edgelands. I try to capture some of this in my photography work, and right now I am also keeping a notebook of my small, daily discoveries and interactions that will eventually form a textual project of some sort.
If you’d like to have a closer look at what’s the city life of Berlin like, browse by ‘Slow Travel Berlin’ and get inspired by the lately published guidebook. Paul’s portfolio and photography is published online here.