Just Say Yes!
Saying “Yes” whenever we can is the attitude that has made Tim’s and my nomadic life possible. First, we said “Yes” when we came up with the idea of selling our house so we could hit the road free of obligations. Saying “Yes” to readers who want to meet us on our travels has allowed us to embrace a marvelous group of new friends who are scattered all over the world; and saying “Yes” to the challenge of writing an article for the Wall Street Journal sent our life into a new, exciting direction, with thousands of new friends on the Internet and ultimately a book about our adventures which will be published in April 2014.
Last year we discovered a marvelous way to meet people when we were in Paris, so we’ve said “Yes” three times to spending an evening at Jim Haynes’ Sunday evening social gatherings. I read about these parties in the New York Times, made the first booking, and each time we return, his tiny apartment is full of jovial, interesting people from around the world. Each guest pays 30€ for a so-so dinner and some boxed wine. But of course the cuisine is immaterial because the evening’s purpose is to provide a gathering place for people who are excited to hear new stories about travel and share their own tales with fellow explorers. We always meet new friends whose itineraries intersect with ours, and we never fail to get lots of ideas and helpful information.
This time, we met Gerlinde Schulte at the soiree. An attractive, smart, lively, Berliner, she invited us to look her up when we arrived in her city in August. Surely you know by now what our answer was!
When we arrived in Germany we phoned Gerlinde, and she invited us to lunch at her apartment. We were delighted to say “Yes,” and the next Sunday we were whisked by the S-Bahn (the Berlin train system) to her beautiful treelined neighborhood.
Gerlinde’s apartment was amazing. It was very large, comfortable and welcoming. Its high ceilings and hardwood floors, its generous proportions and comfortable furniture made us feel right at home. Andreas, a Brazilian friend who was working and living in Portugal, and was visiting Berlin for meetings, joined us. After a sumptuous breakfast and lively discussions about the state of the world, during which we tried valiantly to explain the mysteries of American politics, (we failed utterly, of course, because no one can explain it) we departed with several pages of excellent notes. They told us how to enjoy the best of Berlin, giving us tips it would have taken us months to accumulate on our own. We soon discovered that Gerlinde is not an anomaly; Berliners are among the most welcoming, generous people we’ve encountered in our home free experience, and meeting her started a small avalanche of opportunities to get to know other people and see special places that would have been unavailable to us if we had not met her!
We had been so busy swapping stories that we’d never even asked her what she did for a living, and we were surprised to find out that she worked as a journalist for the Berliner Morgenpost, the popular morning newspaper in Berlin. As we talked about her work, she said, “Say, if my editor agrees, I’d really like to do an article about you two and your fascinating life.” If you don’t know how we responded, you’re simply not keeping up!
Gerlinde phoned the very next day to say that her editor loved the story idea, that she’d like to come to see us and bring a photographer. She also invited us to a dinner party her friend was hosting on that Saturday evening. Naturally, we said , “Yes, yes, yes,” to all of it!
The next day Gerlinde sent us an email confirming the interview/photo date, and we spent the next few days enjoying Berlin, learning the transportation system, discovering grocery stores (more on those adventures in a subsequent entry.) When she appeared along with her photographer from the newspaper, they had already chosen a park across the street to serve as the background. He Reto Klar was charming, efficient, and before we knew it, we had photos that made us look like aging rock stars!
A few days later, Gerlinde phoned to say that the small article she had anticipated had become a half-page story and had been picked up by Die Welt, the national newspaper. Wow! Another demonstration of the power of “Yes.” We thought that was amazing news, and we hoped that perhaps Germans, who are great travelers, would enjoy hearing about what we are doing. Here’s the story that ran. No, we don’t speak German, but friends gave us the general drift!
Now, here’s where the power of “Yes” really kicked in. Gerlinde sent an email with the name and contact information of a woman named Heidi Hetzer, whom she said we would really enjoy knowing. She is a woman everyone in Germany knew about – a fascinating personality.
I sent Heidi a note saying that we would be delighted to meet her, and within a few minutes, she phoned to invite us to dinner. She was such a force of nature that her energy practically leapt through the phone. We could hardly wait to meet her. Surely you know how we answered her invitation. We agreed upon a day and time, and, of course, the minute I hung up we Googled her.
Heidi Hetzer really IS a force of nature. At 76, she is planning a driving trip around the world in a 1930 Hudson, with her mechanic as her companion. No follow cars, no TV crews, just the two of them. We were utterly fascinated. She will follow the route of Frauline Stinnes Fahert who, in the 1930‘s was the first woman to circumnavigate the world in a car. Heidi’s family owned three Opel car dealerships in Berlin, so she was wealthy enough to travel the world on the rally driving circuit. During our evening together, she regaled us with wild stories like having been in a Turkish prison after a car accident during one of her rallies! She was absolutely fascinating, and we will be following her progress as she prepares to set off across Siberia and begin her journey in 2014. Please note the purse she is holding in the picture. It’s shaped like a car. I know for a fact that she has another like it in red, and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that she has a closet full of them in every color. It was a memorable encounter, and we parted company vowing to stay in touch and find each other again as we move around the world. She’s definitely a person who knows how to say “Yes” to life’s adventures.
Once set in motion, the positive energy continued to bring us the best Berlin had to offer. Our dinner with Gerlinde, her sister, Kerstin with her two darling children at the home of her friend, Gabi Becker-Smith, was delicious (she served Caribbean food that was the best meal we found in Berlin), and alive with fascinating conversation. Everyone at the table, including 13 year old Nick and 15 year old Alessandra, was well traveled. In fact, when I asked Mr. Personality, Nick, what was favorite place in the world, he replied immediately, “Singapore.” The boy had a very sophisticated view of the world and kept up with the adult conversation flawlessly. It was exciting to meet such a young person who has several languages to his credit and the confidence to fully participate in a rapid-fire grown-up exchange!
Here’s a photo of the group we so enjoyed. We became fast friends with Gerlinde and Gabi,
and we’re planning to meet up with them next summer when we are all in Paris.
As I write this, we are sailing back to the United States for a few months, and I’ll be making new entires very soon about the other fascinating people we met in Berlin: the man who invited us to visit The China Club, the exclusive enclave of the rich and famous, our TV debut with a film crew from Germany’s public television, and yet another visit with our dear friend and fellow traveler, Judy Butcher. Germany was the fifth country in which we’ve managed to see one another! I’ll also share some spectacular views and photos from some locations that only a few lucky people get to see in that vibrant city!
Meantime, I’m going to say “Yes,” to a lovely shipboard dinner and a great big glass of Malbec to go with it!