April 2015. It was springtime in Hawaii and April showers didn’t just bring May flowers, but wanderlust and dreams of shoulder season in Europe. I hadn’t been back to Europe since my misadventures in Lake Como in Italy, Zurich in Switzerland, and Brno & Cesky Krumlov in Czech Republic back in October 2014. Hawaii’s gorgeous beaches, surf, and hikes all stayed the same: beautiful as always, and I knew it would always be waiting for me to return. So without thinking, which is what I do a lot when planning some half-assed trip around the world, I made a split-decision to return to Europe. Next stops? A return to Berlin, Germany and a triumphant return to Stockholm, Sweden.
So you might be saying to yourselves, “Whaaaa?!? Just Berlin and Stockholm? How boring and mundane…I expect The Traveling Bachelor to be traipsing off with a former Russian ballerina on the Transsiberian Express or joining a tribe of partying nomads trekking across the Silk Road in the deserts of China, not boring Western Europe!” Let me explain…Sure, I’d been to Berlin twice before and Stockholm once before already, and in general I liked going to completely new, bizarre locations. But this was a special business related trip to Europe, not just all Traveling Bachelor playtime. Well, a lot of playtime, but still…
Berlin was going to be the site of the momentous annual European conference for international bloggers, trendsetters, marketers, and basically anyone else involved in the European and international social media sphere in 2015, known as The Hive. Last year, I had gone to my first conference at The Hive, in Copenhagen, Denmark, and come away inspired enough to write my first eBook, Oahu Nightlife & Travel Guide, and self-publish all over the world on Amazon.com. Surrounded by some of the top travel, lifestyle, and design bloggers in Europe, and the marketers and companies that courted their influence, I was excited to see what could learn at my 2nd conference.
On top of that, I had an nice offer to house-sit at my Berlin friend Jana’s apartment in Bellevue/Mitte, just a few S-Bahn stops away from the conference at the Scandic Potsdamer Platz, so all my housing was taking care in Germany. In addition, the generous Nordic Light Hotel in central Stockholm was sponsoring me and comping me a whole week’s hotel stay in expensive Sweden, just for helping to do some Facebook and Instagram posting, as well as some other social media advertising for them. A relatively cheap United Airlines and Scandinavian Airlines ticket (Roundtrip from San Francisco to Stockholm for $723) and Air Berlin flight on miles from Stockholm to Berlin later, and I was all set. Three stopovers in San Francisco, Chicago, Stockholm and a 25+ hour flight with layovers were all that stood between me and 4 epic nights in Berlin followed by 7 epic-er nights in Stockholm…all housing taken care of!
The day of the trip, I speedily did some last-minute packing, shopped for a warm cold-weather jacket, finished my US taxes and paid Uncle Sam for all my hard work in 2014, and got an airport pick-up from my friend Julia to Honolulu airport. It’s amazing how many things you can get done in a short amount of time when you have a killer trip to Europe in T-24 hours! As the Hawaiian Airlines A330 jet roared off the runaway, I took a last look as the gorgeous shoreline of Oahu disappeared in my window view, and looked east towards Europe. “And here we go…” I said to myself. The Traveling Bachelor was returning to Germany and Sweden finally.
30 hours, four airplane movies, two delayed flights, three screaming babies, and a miserable layover in Oakland with an overpriced Über ride later, I found myself jet-lagged, dazed, and confused in Arlanda airport, in Stockholm. Waiting for my Air Berlin flight to Berlin, I stared at my half-eaten breakfast salmon lax and cream cheese airport bagel. I was sorta ashamed that my first official meal in Europe had been bought from Starbucks but hungry traveling beggars can’t be choosers! I did some last Facebook-ing to Jana to confirm she would meet me at her dad’s apartment in Berlin and boarded the last flight I had to take to Europe.
After taking the bus and S-Bahn metro to Jana’s apartment, and a long-overdue hug and European greeting, Jana showed me her dad’s awesomely clean apartment, gave me the keys, and rushed off to work with a promise to meet later. I showered quickly and hit my first conference event: a social “Meet & Greet” with the ladies of The Hive at The Digital Eatery on the famous Unter den Linden street just up the block from Brandenburg Gate. I say ladies of The Hive, because this year, like last year, the conference was overwhelmingly women in their 20’s-40’s, mothers, and mostly European and German. So obviously, as a tan Taiwanese surfer/bachelor/doctor from Hawaii, I completely blended in. #JustKidding. Even though I was completely jet-lagged and straight off the plane from Hawaii, I managed to say hi and give a quick hug to some of the attendees I actually recognized from last year, including the wonderful Yvonne. Yvonne basically slaved throughout the year to bring The Hive to life every year, and we owed the whole weekend to her hard work!
I traded business cards with and got introduced to some of the veterans and up-and-coming members of Europe’s branding and blogging community, drank copious amounts of wine at the open bar, and basically tried not to embarrass myself. It was hard to ignore the intensity, talent, and resources in this room. Some of the people in this room had literally tens of thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of readers and fans, and had made complete careers out of a good online website and savvy social media marketing skills. I just hoped that one day I could become 1/10th the blogger that some of these impressive women had become. “Baby steps, baby steps…”, I reminded myself.
Saying a bleary goodbye to the new friends I had met, I decided to ignore my body’s screaming desire to pass out and sleep, and do what every Traveling Bachelor would do on their first night in Berlin: Go get some after-drinking food and try to find the HOTTEST party on Friday night in Kreuzberg! With that, I hopped a quick S-Bahn down to what was supposed to be Berlin’s greatest kebab place, Mustafa’s Gemüsekebab…which was saying a lot, given that Berlin literally had thousands of kebab places. After waiting 45 minutes, and having to take a quick in-line pee break after all the wine of course, I finally stared at the remnants of the quickly devoured Durum Kebab. A Durum Kebab that I had demolished in front of an even larger, hungrier developing line of Friday night Berlin partygoers. Soooooo good and so worth it…Maybe not “45 minutes worth of waiting while having to pee and wanting to party” good, but better than about 99.9% of kebabs I’ve ever had in my life. You can read my review for Mustafa’s here. With my belly full, I was off to a hot and crazy party in Kreuzberg at an infamous nightclub known as Lido, just before midnight.
Supposedly tonight was some sort of special student party, as my Berlin university friend Stephanie had relayed to me. I had been smart enough to put myself on the guestlist on the Lido website and knock my cover charge from 10 Euro down to 5 Euro, and with that I charged on in and spent way too much time drinking vodka sodas, dancing to awesome old-school hip-hop and pop remixes with Berlin students. Students who hadn’t even been born when most of those Madonna, Michael Jackson, and Backstreet Boys songs had been released. At about 2 am, I realized I was never going to find my friend Stephanie, and decided to make the S-Bahn trek home so I could be in halfway normal shape for The Hive conference on Saturday morning. The S-Bahn was surging with drunken partygoers taking advantage of the all-night weekend metro services, and I tumbled into bed in my Bellevue flat about 30 minutes later, falling into a deep Hawaii jet-lag sleep.
With my last waking thoughts, I wondered what the rest of my Berlin trip would bring. I had no idea that before my trip to Germany was complete, I would have a major run-in with the Berlin metro police and be outfoxed by two male strippers. I should have known better…
(To Be Continued with Two Male Strippers, An S-Bahn Fine, and A Famous Kebab Place in Berlin (Part 2) )