Guest Post by Mark Michael Stephens

Berlin is beautiful. The ample gardens, endless restaurants, modern museums, and the ever so user friendly U- and S-Bahn make me miss it. When I arrived in the summer of 2009, it was my first time out of America by myself.

Single and thirtyish, I was anxious to travel outside of the states. En route to Berlin on KLM airlines, I had a layover in Amsterdam. I transferred to a commuter plane where you walk outside and climb a tower of long steel stairs — the kind I remember from my childhood in the 80’s, with one lavatory in the front and two seats in each row — a time capsule without over head compartments for carry on luggage.

Seventy thousand miles up perched above what seemed like fields of endless windmills, I double-checked my itinerary downloaded on Expedia over a package of cinnamon biscuits and a disposable citrus juice box with words I couldn’t pronounce. I felt giddy like one of those big kids around twelve who travel alone to see a relative and feel validated like a grown up with security waiting at the gate. Only this time, I had no one waiting when I exited.

As I stood in line for a cab, my heart pounded. When the driver pulled over to the curb, he came out and placed my suitcase in the trunk without a word. I tried to make chitchat to quell my nerves, but he didn’t speak English. I pointed to my address on the paper twice.  He nodded and made no eye contact.

After checking into my swanky hotel in Charlottenburg, I placed my passport and euros in the safe near the front desk. I was hesitant, but saw the rows of others slots with guests thinking the same. As I waited for my room to be cleaned, I headed out for breakfast at eight in the morning.

The streets were cobblestoned and the buildings were ornate with multi-colored exteriors with concrete steps and wrought iron balconies above with flowerbeds of tulips. I felt right at home. The air was warm with the slightest chill, nothing like the sweltering summer of Manhattan.

I came across a café with rusty, ladder back chairs. They were situated on the sidewalk that had spurts of ingrown green grass between the cracks. Bees floated from everywhere. The waitress spoke English and brought over a flaky croissant with luscious chocolate milk. I looked across the street and observed people walking to work with briefcases in hand. The quaintness had me on the first crunch of flaky goodness along with a texture in the butter I have not found since.

During my first few hours on European soil, I felt happy for the first time in a long time. Not only because I took a risk to somewhere foreign, but that I took a moment to discover things I had dreamt about. Since then, I have traveled to Europe six times on my own and can’t get enough. I think it’s the adventure of not knowing what is around the corner and exploring a new place with culture and great food and new sites that get my curiosities flowing. Travel is one of the things that allowed me to access a different set of lenses. I dare any of you to do it. Take out ten to fourteen days and book a trip that pushes you out of your comfort zone. You won’t regret it.

All photos courtesy of Mark Michael Stephens

Mark Michael Stephens is writing a memoir about his childhood in Northern Nevada. Mark is an avid international traveler who is inspired by culture, customs and cuisine. He is an honors graduate of The New School and lives in New York City.


  1. What a well written article! I had no desire to visit Berlin – much less alone. Now I am itching to go! Though you, Mr. Stephens, sound like a fantastic traveling companion!


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