Saturday, 15 December 2018

Feeling Rejected

© Rebecca Renner

I write. Occasionally I get published, but most of the time I don't. People who don't write (at least not with the aim of getting published) sometimes ask me how that works. I usually answer that it's a case of being in the right place at the right moment — and that you have to invest a lot of time and effort into something that might not take off, or worse, might get stolen.

The outlets that many people know and read will often have a general submissions page, or a standard editorial@... on the contact page. However, as anyone who's fired off a pitch into one of these voids knows, in order to at least increase the likelihood of being noticed, it's best to get personal. Many editors have their email address listed in their Twitter bio; otherwise, like me, you'll scour masthead pages for hints on who the right contact could be (if nothing else, doing your research usually doesn't go unappreciated).

In certain circles, editorial contacts and rates are passed around like a joint at a house party. I make a note of these, feeling smug in the knowledge that I've done some legwork, and certain that one day I'll have the perfect idea for this editor and be able to make use of this contact. However, as you may have noticed, publishing is an increasingly volatile environment. Editors get laid off, they move around, or that website that seemed perfect for your piece no longer exists — take Rookie and Racked from the past quarter alone!

That's one reason why, as a writer, you are haunted by a feeling of immense pressure. Not only have you probably got have things like imposter syndrome to contend with, but if, like me, you don't always find it easy to find the focus required to advocate for your work, and you struggle to get into the right headspace to even feel like putting yourself out there, you might just feel like giving up.

The other reason is... ugh, yep, comparison to others. You know it's pointless and that it's the biggest thief of energy, time, and motivation, but it's still something you might find yourself indulging in. Quite often, I have to just plain sign out of Twitter (if I then try to go on it, being faced with the login page is usually enough to remind me why). This thread says it all:

This isn't intended as a whinge about how writers have it sooo hard. It's more to express the fact that since I've changed my mindset to embrace rejection, I've kind of made peace with it.

I'm in a Facebook community for women, trans, and gender non-conforming writers around the world (it's a "first rule of [community] is don't talk about [community]" kind of deal). One sub-group of this is for people to talk about rejections, to commiserate over unfair circumstances, to share advice, but most often to celebrate being rejected by editors, by agents, for residencies, and so on. Some members are self-proclaimed "rejects", and to me, this is as healthy as self-deprecation can get.

Yes, of course rejection is disappointing. At my worst, I wonder if I'm ever going to get anything published again. I know I will — I have to! — but that's only going to happen if I keep trying. Rejection shows me I'm doing something right; that I'm putting in the work.

Here's a selection of places I've pitched in 2018, and the types of rejections I've received:

The New York Times (swift rejection, but personal and funny!)
Catapult (detailed and encouraging rejection)
Broadly (detailed rejection)
The Atlantic (standard rejection)
Vox (standard rejection)
The New Inquiry (standard rejection)
New Statesman (no answer)
Cosmopolitan (no answer)
Marie Claire (no answer)

And just in case you can't get enough of rejection, NYT happened to publish yet another person's experience with it yesterday.

Sunday, 28 October 2018

A Tale of Two To-Do Lists

Earlier this week, I was feeling a little rough and did not really have the mental capacity to do anything except scroll back down my Twitter timeline to remind myself of other times when I was sad. Oddly enough, it cheered me up. (Sorry in advance for the #germanpun.)

Adulting is hard, y'all. I may only work part-time at my "day job" (there's such a stigma attached to that term?), and yes, I do also have freelance projects to keep my head above water. But to be honest, I would say most of my time outside the office is spent doing stuff that is boring and/or exhausting, like getting my prescriptions refilled, or clearing something up at the tax office.

Last week, a parcel had been left for me at a tiny stationery shop, which I'd attempted to pick up on Saturday afternoon... only it turned out they were only open in the morning. Yet on weekdays, their hours were 9:30-18:00. For many people — if not the majority — that's just not doable.
I unexpectedly came home from work at lunchtime on Tuesday, so I then had time to go and pick up my goodies that afternoon rather than on my day off. So that was a nice tonic to a murky day.
While not super far away, it was still quite a walk to get to the stationery shop. I was surprised to see that the place was stuffed with cardboard boxes and parcels. How do these things work? Did the shop owner actually volunteer to accept deliveries for ungrateful punters? I'm not convinced it wasn't all a ruse to get unlikely customers to patronise the shop; we may inhabit a digital age, but people still need pens, after all. But then why had no shops closer to my building snapped up this sweet deal?

I look back on when I worked 40-hour weeks on a rigid schedule. How on earth did I organise my health and life admin around work and terrible opening hours? With great difficulty, let me tell you. I was in a near-constant state of panic or paralysis.

Unfortunately, the stressful nature of these things can seep out into moments when you want to switch off, leaving you unable to truly relax. I recently read that unlike, say, a decade ago, we now feel compelled to fill in little moments of idleness with something, anything, and that makes adults overtired like toddlers (gulp — for me, that had sort of been the appeal of Pocket). And then when you suddenly remember you have so many things you'd like to spend your time on when there's no work looming, you feel a sense of dread. You feel like you're wasting your life.

That's why you gotta make an Obligations To-Do List and a Fun To-Do List!

Have a sneak peek at mine (I have redacted a couple of items, obvs):
  • Design tattoo
  • Write letter to friend
  • Watch Wach
  • Make blog more responsive and mobile-efficient
  • Download Spotify onto phone; get subscription 
  • Sell bike
  • Check Microsoft Office licence status
  • Get watch batteries
  • Update scrapbook

Alright, looking at a couple of those, my definition of "fun" might be a bit broad. But in this case, I've basically taken it to mean stuff that's not work and is not a slog. Stuff that isn't always discernibly a pleasure, but is still satisfying. Short-term stuff that, over time, will make tiny improvements to my day-to-day life and help me to fulfil my long-term goals. Isn't that what they call... self-care?

And at any rate: who can deny the ecstasy that is crossing something off a to-do list? (Definitely not Earth signs.)

I'm sure there are numerous apps that could help you out with this, but I actually really prefer using a physical diary to a phone calendar. (When my friends want to schedule me in for a Gcal date, though, I will humour them and click "Yes". Hi, Fiona!)
I use this diary to organise my Obligations To-Do List: work, appointments, reminders. I write stuff in for the specific day I want to get it accomplished on or by, usually prioritising by deadline or urgency. If ever a day — or at least an afternoon — is relatively blank, I try to then use that for one of my Fun To-Do List items.

I write down these "treat tasks" on a magnetic notepad that I got from Paperchase a while ago. As you can see on my list above, it tends to be low-priority life admin that isn't really that scary, creative stuff, or little things I can do when I'm hit by book fatigue (as opposed to forcing myself through a read that I'm not really feeling in that moment).

At the end of the day, these little tasks and fragments are the puzzle pieces that make up our lives. The act of putting something on my Fun To-Do List actually nudges me towards gratitude. It challenges me and gets me excited to do something that is actually relatively banal, which has to be good for my overall health, right?

Personally, in order to be happy, I need to have things going on in my life that aren't just going to work, messing about online, going to bed. Don't get me wrong; sometimes that's exactly what hits the spot! But in the bigger picture, I need to see personal progress. I want to have a full overview of all the tiny bits and bobs that come together to form my existence, whether they are dull, exciting, or somewhere in between. I want to be able to look back and say, "I got that done", without bowing to the modern model of constant, fruitless productivity.

Saturday, 13 October 2018

October: Gloom & Optimism

We have entered the tenth month of the year: October. In the Roman calendar, it was the eighth month, hence the oct- prefix (once I had learnt that, sometime during primary school, I couldn't unsee it).

October feels heavy. I know I said recently that it was one of my favourite months, and it still is, but I guess those two statements aren't mutually exclusive. September heralds excitement and new beginnings (there've been several studies linking it to a psychological association with the start of the school year), whereas October feels like the beginning of the end of that honeymoon period. Know what I mean?

Granted, my grandad died a month ago and so the last few weeks have been really hard, not least because I've been plagued by thoughts about the altered dynamic and shift in responsibility within my family. I feel very fortunate to have been able to see him at the end of August, which was bittersweet. Afterwards, I was also in a position to go and stay with my grandma for a few days to keep her company and help her around the house, and then go to England a third time last week to attend the funeral.
Although it had been really strange to see Grandad's reading chair in the living room and to keep remembering why he wasn't sitting there, it didn't really sink in until I was in the bosom of my family and lots of older strangers.
This has been a summer of immense personal growth for many different reasons, so this autumn seems to have been made for coming down from all the unsettledness of travelling around so much within such a short period of time, in unhappy circumstances, while trying to recover my place in daily Berlin life. It goes without saying that my mental, emotional, and physical well-being have suffered recently, and so I'm going to go as easy on myself as possible as I try to feel like a person again.

Something that adds to the psychological strain of it all is the knowledge that no matter how much I care about my family, there are political goings-on that I have no control over and that might inhibit our ability to see one another in the near future. Obviously I voted to remain and have always thought Brexit was a dreadful idea, but headlines like this and the absolute failure on the part of the British government to get a deal have very literally robbed me of sleep. Look, I know I elected to live abroad, and at the same time I also live closer to my native country than many other people I know. Somehow, these two things both conspire to make things hard in one way or another: either I will be punished for living abroad at all, or my native country, which I previously could go back to without any stress, will be dangled in front of me at a relatively short distance and yet I won't be able to go back because of my perceived "loyalty" to "Europe". 
Anyway, aside from this, I've basically trained myself not to engage with Brexit stuff — to let reports of each new potential horror wash past me, to change the subject if someone non-British tries to joke about it — but sometimes it just gets to me.

Whenever it does get a bit too much, this incredible artefact never fails to make me laugh (you gotta watch it til the end, though):

I know I wrote about how I hate certain, invasive aspects of summer, but winter being on its way is another reason that I need to keep an extra close watch on my mental health as well (sorry, but spring and autumn are the only two seasons I thrive in). For that reason, I've finally done myself a favour and ordered a solar lamp, which arrived this week. I tried it out yesterday morning and I think it's going to take a few days. I am actually really excited about the possibility of not feeling like my head is filled with wet concrete for months on end?

Anyway, throw all these factors into a pot and it makes for one weird mood. But a matter of months ago before this, I was doing much worse. Through the golden combo of rest, medication, and going back to therapy, each day I'm accepting that there's only so much I can do that will affect the bigger picture. One day at a time.

Regardless of whether or not you believe in astrology, or if you sit somewhere on the fence, check out what the current Venus Retrograde is all about. It may just provide fresh insight into your life and be the starting point for you to get out of a rut — I know it's helped me so much in the past few months.

While we're on the subject of freshness: one reason I adore this time of year is the crisp leaves, the bright colours against the grey sky. Or the blue, cloudy sky, as it sometimes may be. Scenes like this will always take my breath away:

So I'm clearing my head of various sources of stress, finding ways to enjoy media again, and really just relearning to be a person. In a mean twist of fate, though, I'm undertaking the extremely tedious task of auditing my iTunes library because I noticed that over 2,000 songs were missing from my iPod since I last synced it. Including the entirety of Have One On Me — that's just rude, right? That's survival music. So I'm slowly restoring the file paths... hoping to be done by Christmas.

A mobile app I have discovered way too late and can now recommend to everybody else is Pocket. I'm not getting paid for my praise (wouldn't mind it, but mainly I am too lazy to find out how), so you can read this in good faith.

Some of the stuff I've got lined up to read. The full gamut of my interests: social justice, offbeat scientific developments, literary cities, tech editorial, and local character profiles.

When I came back to Berlin after the funeral, there was a 45-minute wait at Sch├Ânefeld between stepping off the plane to getting my passport checked (a sneak peek of Brexits to come... and that's if we get a deal). Obviously everyone in the queue was huffing and puffing and tutting and rolling their eyes, and some of them were holding books, but I couldn't be bothered to get my Kindle out of my bag. I did have my phone in my hand, and I couldn't connect to the airport wi-fi to idly browse social media — but I did have a Pocket app I had loaded up with articles.
The excellent thing about it is that it can be used offline! When I'm surfing the 'net, usually when procrastinating, I usually come across a few things I'd like to read, so I can now just save it to my desktop Pocket app. This saves me from either having a distracting tab open or just putting it in my browser bookmarks and forgetting about it. The other good thing is that when I actually open up the article on my phone rather than my laptop, I am usually far more focused and skim less.
Basically, Pocket seems like it was made for people like me, who read widely and prolifically, and often find themselves in situations that aren't quite long or significant enough to merit getting out an actual book, but are not fleeting enough to just stare into space for.

Here are the best pieces I've saved to my Pocket so far:

Otherwise, I've got back into Netflix because I have accepted I don't always need to be "doing" something and I need to give myself regular breaks. As well as a slew of fluffy straight-to-Netflix films that make me glad I'm no longer in high school, I've just finished all four seasons of Grace & Frankie, which was such good comfort viewing. Also, Nanette, which... wasn't an easy watch. Oh, here's an article on it that I've just added to Pocket.

My big news is that I started a new part-time job last week! And I have a really good feeling about it so far. More on that later, maybe. Meanwhile, on a personal level, I'm gonna focus on minimising stress and making it through the rest of this month.

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

The House by the Lake at Gro├č Glienicke

Today is Tag der Deutschen Einheit, German Unity Day, the day the two Germanies became one 28 years ago. It seems like a pretty good day to finally set this post free from my drafts folder, as it concerns a house that once straddled the border of West Berlin and Brandenburg (the ex-GDR federal state surrounding Berlin).

This summer, I read Thomas Harding's excellent historical memoir The House by the Lake (click through to see my review). I loved it, and I immediately vowed to go and visit the Alexander Haus. Even though I live in Berlin — which certainly brought many aspects of the book to life — it's not as if the house is just around the corner from me; it was actually a bit of a faff to get to, but I hoped it would be worth it.

Rathaus Spandau U-Bahn station

Start with a U7 ride all the way to its western terminus, Rathaus Spandau (a cool station that looks like it belongs in Legoland), followed by a change to the 638 bus, getting off at Ritterfelddamm. You can also get the X34 bus from Zoologischer Garten and get off at Gutsstra├če (this is how I got back to Berlin, and incidentally, these are the start and end points on this route so you can't really go wrong. Also, this is definitely the more scenic route).
Both Ritterfelddamm and Gutsstra├če are just about located within zone B but are a walkable distance to zone C, meaning you only need an AB ticket and can thus save yourself €0.60 if you wish.

You'll walk down Gutsstra├če, which is actually a little track splitting a caravan park and a few houses. It skims the Gutspark, which is the remnants of the estate once belonging to Otto von Wollank (son of Adolf Friedrich Wollank — for whom Wollankstra├če in Pankow is named, just in case the name rings a bell).

An orphanage, but I can't find any information about it — it was possibly mentioned in the book, but I don't have it to hand right now and can't remember.

Ruins in the Gutspark

The remains of the Berlin Wall will soon come into view. The map-official border between Berlin and Brandenburg runs right through the lake, but since you can't exactly erect a wall in the water (at least not as efficiently as they wanted to), they instead built it running around the lake's western edge.
Even though I have now seen the Wall many times, given that its remains are dotted in various places around Berlin, this bit of it felt particularly poignant and spooky; perhaps because it was located way out in the country and seems so out of place and aggressive in an area that's otherwise very idyllic.
The Wall not only cleft the village in two — it also prevented a whole generation of Gro├č Glienicke inhabitants from enjoying the lake. I mean, imagine having bought a house literally because it was right by a lake, then one day you woke up to see a great big barrier being put up, and could only assume it would stay there forever! Rather than being shared by residents both of Berlin and of the state of Brandenburg (East Germany), the lake now sat firmly in West Berlin.

On the left, the Vorderlandmauer, while the concrete wall is the Hinterlandmauer.

The lake itself was lovely and peaceful, and given the heatwave, it was refreshing to have a little paddle (for over two weeks, we'd been suffering with temperatures up to 37° — and to any people from hot countries who are scoffing at this, Germany doesn't have any sort of air conditioning infrastructure).

The Alexander Haus was closed for renovation and thus inaccessible from its address on Am Park. However, not far from the cove where I dipped into the lake, I could view it from behind a fence. I can't tell you how moving this was, especially imagining the various residents whom I'd read about walking just down the slope to the lake, seeing exactly the same thing that I saw.

If you follow the track, you can then walk out to Potsdamer Chaussee, which is sort of the main road that runs through Gro├č Glienicke. You'll find yourself under the Gutstor.

I stopped for a sip of lemonade and some chips (the fat, fluffy kind!) at a Greek restaurant, then took the bus home. I would have liked to stayed longer and explore the Gutspark a bit more, but unfortunately I only realised that's what it was after the fact. From the outside, it looked like a load of forest and unkempt bushes.

It's these places on the various margins of Berlin that interest me. I feel a sort of protectiveness and desperation towards them, like they're the salt of the earth yet also slowly disappearing out of reach. And even if I were to make a weekly trip to Gro├č Glienicke, I would probably still never shake off this separation anxiety.

Sunday, 2 September 2018

End-of-summer update

I've not been updating this blog as much as I wanted to over the summer. I have had to take a step back from things — and by "things" I mean several aspects of my life, not just the internet — to focus on my health and wellbeing.

Nevertheless, I have occasionally found the energy to do some walking, thinking, and writing. I will be publishing these posts over the course of September or October (two of my favourite months...), and hopefully normal service will be resumed soon enough!

Monday, 30 July 2018

Various places (including Birmingham & Leeds), UK

In June, I went back to the UK for 10 days: the longest time I have spent there since moving to Berlin just short of four years ago.

As many emigr├ęs will testify, the concept of home gets muddied when milestones start taking place abroad. Scary steps into your career, marriage or cohabitation or an otherwise significant relationship, having a child... whatever it is, you start to see life in terms of your adopted country and lose sight of how it is in your old country. I don't have the slightest clue about council tax, for example, and if I ever move back, I'll almost certainly struggle with and feel stupid about what people consider the simplest tenets of UK adulthood, despite it all being in my first language.
Without really thinking about it, whenever you're in one place you refer to the other as "home", thus confusing family and friends who may expect you to pick just one.
My native country is close by, unlike many people I know here who are from North America or Down Under, for whom a visit to theirs is a biennial or perhaps even rarer luxury. I go back twice a year on average, yet when I meet people for the first time, they tend to assume I go more.
There are two main reasons I don't. Firstly, when I go home, I visit my parents, and they do not live near any major cities, so that means I have to write off a day for travelling from the airport and then recovering from the travelling (because the cheapest flight is always the early flight). I never go back to the UK just to go to London. Going back is very different to simply going on holiday to another country. When you do that, you tend to go to one particular city, and there's its airport right there.
The second truth is that I have almost never really been financially stable. You might think, "Oh, but you had enough to go to Austria and Greece, plus you went to Canada a couple of years back", but it always comes at a price: the fact that I work my arse off and lose my mind trying to make extra cash so that I can get out of here once in a while and give myself things to look forward to. (In general, I wish people would be more honest about this.) Whenever I return, I am back at square one. I don't care what you've heard; survival in Berlin costs money and a lot of energy. If I'm only in the UK for a few days, I can't always incorproate seeing people on the other side of the country, and one reason for this is that train ticket costs are going through the roof.

So it wasn't as if I hadn't been wanting to make a longer visit. It made me appreciate this one all the more, though.


Yep! Mum wanted to go, as her friend (and my godmother) Gillian was putting on an exhibition. It had been years since I'd been to Birmingham; when I was at uni in Leicester, it was the nearest large city, so I had to go there a couple of times to get bigger errands done or catch train connections to go further north or west. In the months before coming to Berlin, we had even talked about me moving into Gillian's spare room because of the better job prospects... so there's that "what could have been" element.

I was surprised at how different the area around New Street Station looked. I used to dread going to that place because those below-ground platforms were... ugh, just so dank. A constant building site, really bad lighting, and the connection times always seemed to be really narrow. The platforms are still dark, but at least the station itself is no longer such a terrible place to hang around in. It's been merged into a shopping centre and rebranded as "Grand Central", very light and bright. We took the bus down to Balsall Heath, which is where this exhibition was.

The iconic Selfridges building

This wasn't the art, by the way. The exhibition wasn't a chair and a plant.
Birmingham skyline from Balsall Heath!

I'd heard there were some nice independent veggie restaurants and bistros in Birmingham, but unfortunately we got hungry at an inconvenient time and ended up going Wagamama at the Bullring. Not a terrible choice, though, as I tried their new vegan katsu curry. It was good. How can I recreate this at home?

Seeing as we were in the area, we ducked into the giant, multi-storey Waterstones. I picked up one title I'd explicitly wanted to buy while in the UK, and another that's been on my Goodreads list for a while but that I really hadn't been expecting to find there.
Can I just say what a bizarre experience it was to actually go into a British bookshop at all? I follow literature pretty religiously thanks to the internet, but I would say most of my sources are American, as are the selections in the English-speaking sections of Berlin bookshops. So when I see people on Twitter talking about new UK & Ireland book releases, I tend to assume it's all obscure stuff, sleeper hits that you have to specially order. I guess it's simply because of the volume of good stuff coming out, books I wish I could have read years ago; the brilliant writing and conspicuously non-overt portrayal of queer women in Sally Rooney's Conversations with Friends, for example. Actually seeing stuff "in the pulp"? Pretty surreal, and also a wake-up call that publishing is at its peak. (Which is unspeakably inspiring when it comes to tending to my own fiction-writing pursuits, too.)

We then jumped onto the West Midlands Metro (tram that takes you from Birmingham to Wolverhampton) to visit the historic Jewellery Quarter, but by the time we got there things seemed to be shut and I was in a lot of pain, so we instead made our way back to catch the train back home. Not without a stop at Pret for snacks, of course! I now see why everyone goes on about it!


Lovely Leeds! I went there to visit my sister. It had been a long time since my last sojourn to the North, but I'd universally heard really good things about Leeds so I'd been wanting to check it out for a while. Allegedly it's the city with the highest concentration of Germans in the UK, but I didn't run into any evidence of this while I was there.

On my first evening there, we went to Hyde Park Book Club, a cool venue. And when I say "cool", I mean, I felt very old; there were lots of teens and students dressed like 90s throwbacks, as is the trend these days. Anyway, I still had a nice time. A lot of small gigs go on here, there's a little bar/caf├ę with mostly vegan goodies, and you can even buy books there (as the name suggests).

While Flo was at work the next day, I went into town and explored a bit. One of the most well-known aspects of Leeds' city centre is the Victorian arcades.

A modernised arcade, I think

I liked the university's brutalist architecture, too. This photo looks like a 3D reconstruction, right?

But I think what I enjoyed most of all was just being in an English neighbourhood again with terraced houses (and bonus rolling hills). That's something that can't be recreated in Berlin.

Houses made from black stone, peculiar to the area

I have to admit that, as ever, one of the aspects I was anticipating the most in Leeds was the food! There was Temple Coffee & Doughnuts, which I'd seen numerous times on Instagram due to their very distinctive aesthetic. They had the most incredible pastel-coloured hot drinks; mine was called Purple Haze, a lavender milk (!) latte. So good. The doughnuts were also amazing. I can't really complain, since I live 10 minutes away from Brammibal's in Berlin, but... this was in a league of its own.

Later that day, we headed to the suburb of Kirkstall to check out Mog's, which is the vegan fast food place. Unfortunately by dinnertime, when we got there, most of their stuff had sold out; I'd been really craving fried "chicken", but it was a really small place. However, the stuff we did get was delicious. I opted for a Philly cheese steak and garlic fries (I was so thirsty that I was even persuaded to get a tin of Sprite).

We were so full afterwards that we walked to to Kirkstall Abbey.

All in all, I had a lovely stay in Leeds and there's definitely much more I want to explore next time!

Leicester & Cambridge

I also managed to see pals in these places, which was really nice! It is lovely to feel like you still have connections. That might sound a bit bleak, but over the past year or so I've really struggled with my identity in relation to the UK and the people there (which is probably rooted in not having sustainable friendships at school).

It was great to see Alex in Leicester! We had a nice lunch at The Orange Tree (whose vegan menu has expanded by miles — spoilt for choice, I opted for seitan popcorn chicken and a Japanese salad!), walked through nostalgic Victoria Park, hung out at her place, and then pootled around the Clarendon Park area, visiting all the old haunts having a look at what my old house looks like now!

In Cambridge, Nikita, Lynsey, and I went to the ever-amazing Rainbow Caf├ę, where we each had a different lasagne. I had forgotten how pretty Cambridge is, especially on a June evening. We walked down Trumpington Street and then over the river before sitting down on the lawn outside Queen's College and having a laugh, before Lynsey kindly drove me to my hotel near Stansted Airport.

For personal reasons, I didn't return to Berlin feeling rejuvenated and positive, but look: I did have a really wonderful time while in the UK. For better or worse, there's no place like it.

Saturday, 28 July 2018

Salzburg & Linz, Austria

In April, I went to Salzburg and Linz with my mum.

I had pinned a fair few expectations on this trip: as part of my undergrad year abroad, I spent the first half of 2012 living in Linz, Upper Austria, on a British Council assistantship. I liked it a lot, and vowed to come back. It took six years, but there were other places I wanted to check out first!
As well as generally returning to Austria, this was also about showing my mum around the place and sort of act as an ambassador for my family, as they didn't come to visit while I was living there.
We didn't go to Vienna because a) we didn't have time; b) I don't like it.


Mum and I got the high-speed train from Berlin to Munich at 6am. It was a great experience (and if you book far enough in advance on the Deutsche Bahn website, you can snag pretty reasonable deals)! The train made only two stops in between, at Erfurt and Nuremberg, and it was almost empty — I'm guessing because it was a weekday and we took it so early. We then took the little train to Salzburg, stopping at Rosenheim and passing Bavarian lakes like Chiemsee, gradually ascending into the Alps.
I used to travel to Salzburg from Linz quite a lot at weekends, simply because the landscape was more grandiose, the general vibe was quainter, and I had a friend from uni living there. Seeing the stunning mountainous backdrop as I stepped out onto the platform hit me all over again! The station itself had since been done up and looked a lot better than it did before.

It was lunchtime when we arrived, and we still had to wait around a bit before we could check into our accommodation, so we went to have lunch in a part of town I had never been to before, at a tiny vegan joint called GustaV. Pretty much as soon as we got to the flat, we took a long nap. It had already been a long day, and it was so warm in Salzburg compared to Berlin!

This was in the bathroom. I'm going to read it as an anti-anxiety mantra:
"Don't believe everything you think."

When we woke up it was dinnertime, but luckily we'd thought to get some provisions from the trusty Spar in the station when we arrived. We prepared a modest dinner and then went for a lovely evening walk. Spring suits Austria very well.

The next day was all about exploring Salzburg's old town.

Mirabell Gardens, aka "The Sound of Music Gardens"

Starting at €11 admission, Hohensalzburg Fortress is a bit pricey, but kind of a must. You go up there in a little funicular, and then it's much like a little medieval village on top of a mountain. It dates back as early as the 11th century and was commissioned by the Prince-Archbishops of Salzburg. I had already been to the museum before and I didn't think a revisit was essential, so we just wandered around and took in the views.

In the evening we headed to Green Garden, a vegetarian restaurant with a lot of vegan options, for a slap-up meal. I went for a burger and Mum had really yummy-looking beetroot Maultaschen (a sort of Germanic tortellini), which I will learn to make one day! For dessert, I had a delicious brownie with ice cream and caramelised peanuts.

Our digestion walk, looking southwest over the River Salzach, the fortress, and... a mountain.

On the Sunday, we took a trip into the Salzkammergut, which is the name given to the mountainous area covering the state of Salzburg. We weren't really sure where exactly we wanted to go — we just knew our Fenland arses needed to see some Alpine scenery — so we took the train towards Zell am See, stopping in Bruck an der Gro├čglocknerstra├če.

I'm guessing this means we were 757m above sea level, not 757,058m.
The town of Bruck, the official beginning of the Gro├čglocknerstra├če
My initial, overly ambitious intention was to walk from the town into the Gro├čglockner High Alpine Pass (the standard English translation), which is the highest mountain pass in Europe. Obviously we would have turned around at some point, but at first, it didn't seem unfeasible; there was a footpath, and I'd assumed that we could get the bus for a stretch. However, not only was it a Sunday, but the new term-time bus schedule that would have run on Sundays wasn't going to kick in until the following month! So annoying. We kept walking until we reached the hamlet of Fusch, then gradually made our way back to the station so that we'd make the train to Zell.

Ski season was just finishing up, so Zell was fairly quiet. To be honest, it's not the most characterful of towns, but it's a convenient pit stop between Salzburg and the Tyrol, and the landscape is nothing to turn your nose up at.


I was pretty nervous about coming to my old stomping ground after all these years! We travelled to Linz on the Westbahn train — so cheap, so fast, so good (I don't want to know what the catch is) — and on the way I was reminded of place names like Attnang-Puchheim! As soon as we touched down onto the platform, though, I was hit by an extreme form of hay fever and could barely open my eyes, so the first stop was the pharmacy for some strong antihistamines.

First glimpse of the Danube!

We took the tram to our (ultimately disappointing) AirBnB, then went to look at one of my two old schools and my old residence in the district of Urfahr, north of the Danube. It wasn't overtly emotional, but certainly felt eerie; everything looked the same as years ago, yet I knew that the people I had met there had all left and moved on, and honestly, I probably never crossed their minds again. It's not a part of Linz with a lot of shops and things, and it's not rural or even suburban, but it still has its own character.

My old residence is the building on the left — my room was somewhere behind that yellow tree.
Ah, the lawn... I can't look at this picture without my eyes itching, though.

Linz does have quite a nice old town, but my photos are so dark that I'm ashamed to put them up here. Sorry! However, I can tell you that I was impressed that vegan banana ice cream was on offer at Hauptplatz, that there are lots of mysterious winding alleys, and that we went and got a load of the view from the Castle Museum (which I'd never been to). The pictures I took from up there will have to do.

The cultural life and hip factor in Linz is pretty good. We went to a Klimt exhibition at LENTOS Art Museum. My absolute favourite caf├ę was Friedlieb & T├Âchter in the old town, and we ended up going there twice. It's odd how there are thousands of twee caf├ęs in Berlin, so you might assume that this one wouldn't have made an impact on me, but it really did and I would love to have this exact place around the corner from me.

We had dinner at Gelbes Krokodil, which I don't think ever changes its menu... but then again, why fix what ain't broken? I had the iconic seitan schnitzel with steamed veg, black rice, and guacamole:

There's also a vegan fast food place that's opened just recently in Linz, called Front Food. It was pretty good, definitely up there with (or even above) similar establishments in Berlin! I had the vegan version of the local speciality, the Bosna: a sort of hot dog with mustard and onions, coined by the local Bosnian population, as the name suggests.

Caf├ę Meier: we weren't pleased with the service, but liked its interior

Oh, also, Mum also tried the famous Linzer biscuit for the first time. I was a relatively new vegan when I lived in Linz, and I was beyond delighted to find you could get a vegan version of it there.

On our last night, we headed first to Fr├Ąulein Florentine, which is a bar on a boat! Again, coming from Berlin that doesn't sound like such a novelty, but I really appreciated how the vibe wasn't pretentious at all; it was really just another place for the community to gather and hang out. That's the appeal of small cities, I guess. Fewer people will be tourists, and fewer people have a big-city bad attitude, so you feel like you really can just go up and chat to anyone.
Caf├ę Strom was also a cool discovery; I'm not sure whether or not it existed while I was living in Linz, and if it did, I was just completely ignorant of it. If it was, then I definitely missed out! It is a bar with a punk ethos that puts on gigs and arts events. Is serious regret for a long period of time many years ago a thing?

Chilling at Caf├ę Strom on our last evening in Linz (LENTOS Art Museum on the left across the Danube, ARS Electronica Centre on the right)

The next day we headed back to Salzburg, where we would go our separate ways. I was to take the train back via Munich again, while Mum got the bus to the airport. When I arrived in Munich, though, it turned out not to be the high-speed one! I know that sounds really bratty, but it was hot, it was peak commuter time so I was lucky to get a seat at all, and it stopped in lots of mid-sized Bavarian cities. I got home very late. And then it turned the second leg of Mum's flight, from Cologne to London, was cancelled for reasons not made known to the passengers! It was stressful, but all was sorted out in the end.

Overall, leaving Linz was bittersweet, because I realised that living in a smaller city (pop. 200,000, at least) has its advantages. I have been having a weird and uncertain time lately, as well as a rocky relationship with Berlin, and have been entertaining ideas of leaving my life here behind and having a fresh start.
I was pretty young when I lived in Linz and used to sort of get annoyed it wasn't bigger; specifically, that it wasn't Berlin. It's remarkable how my perspective has shifted. I guess the longer I have been living abroad and the more I have been immersed in German-speaking culture (if such a thing exists...), my priorities and tastes have changed.
I think also, back then, I perceived Austria as a sort of extension of Germany, whereas now I see it for what it is: a central European country that happens to have German as its official language. Apologies to any Austrians reading this!

Anyway it's so close now, geographically, that I'll definitely have to figure out something for some distant point in the future.