Path in the woods, Brandenburg Germany

What is it like to spend the end of summer in an East German bungalow an hour outside of Berlin?


Anyone who has had the opportunity to visit or live in Berlin, Germany is for sure already familiar with the many attractive features the capital boasts. From its exciting art and design scene, diverse cultural offerings including a plethora of galleries, museums, and concert houses, not to mention its infamous club scene and important political locality, it is more than clear that this city is a vibrant and energetic hub of exchange and development for creativity, commerce, culture and policy.


As someone who is constantly in search of increased harmony and balance in both my work and personal life (that holy grail which seems to be the perfect combination of stimulation, inspiration, and creative exchange, as well as rest, relaxation and slow living), I am no exception to a growing group of ‘youngish’ city dwellers who have been lucky enough to enjoy and indulge in Berlin’s more stimulating offerings over the years, yet who are now perhaps seeking a more nature filled, slower paced, and peaceful daily life experience.


After a decade or more of living in a busy and bustling city, the appeal of ‘slow living’ grows strong.


For many of us who have spent more than a moment in this often wild and always changing urban landscape, at some point or another the allure becomes clear of venturing beyond the city borders to the more leisurely paced surrounding of the Brandenburg region, in which Berlin is merely an island within.


After calling myself a Berlin resident for over a decade now and only dabbling a bit with countryside adventuring (a day trip here, an overnight there), I was finally curious enough to take a deeper step away from city life and explore the possibilities of a more tranquil existence and try out ‘slow living’… at least for a single late summer month.

 

 

Summer bungalow in Brandenburg Germany

Our summer retreat: A bungalow in Brandenburg, smack dab in the middle of the woods.


As we turned off the main street, and slowed our pace to accommodate for the bumpy and dusty country road, sandwiched between a kiefer forest and an open meadow, I could feel my spirit start to settle immediately.


After about ten minutes driving deeper into the woods, we eventually pulled up alongside a simple white, rectangular structure with a front covered terrace overlooking a lawn of about 550 square meters, with a small and basic shed nestled into the back far corner. The entire property parallel to an open nature preserve forest, just steps outside the back gate.


The ‘Garden’ property, as my boyfriend calls it, includes five pine trees, an enormous and bursting rhododendron bush, wild blueberry and redcurrant bushes, an old apple tree, a dilapidated vegetable bed, and a few jasmine bushes.


The small bungalow itself encases about 32 square meters of living space, with two small bedrooms, a tiny galley kitchen and even tinier bathroom, all surrounding the main living room space with west facing views to the terrace and garden.


The accommodations themselves, being pretty basic, exclude your typical modern comforts such as wifi (and only one bar for mobile data), hot water, a kitchen stove or sink (the kitchen was essential for storage only) and television. But instead, it offers delightful treats like an outdoor cooktop and sink, a fire pit, outdoor shower. 

 

Outdoor shower in the countryside of Brandenburg Germany

 

Slow Living: Rediscovering small pleasures and savoring simple moments


While it took a moment to comfortably get into the rhythm of this slower paced lifestyle, with far less stimulation and distractions than city living, I found myself making the transition fairly effortlessly and with ease. 


Mornings often started early and gently without the need for alarm clocks of any sort (but rather a happy circadian rhythm adjusted to the morning light) and they stretched out long and slow letting the body and mind wake up without haste or anticipation for the regular day’s to-do lists.

 

Morning shadow play east German Bungalow in Brandenburg Germany

Most of our meals were both prepped and enjoyed on the terrace (except for when the mosquitos were simply too brutal to handle and we had to retreat inside), which allowed for an even deeper settling into the nuances of the surrounding nature. Although the entire property offered a certain and unfamiliar, yet very welcomed, privacy from “known civilization”, we always felt the strong presence and abundance of life all around us. We had daily visits from dragonflies, butterflies, woodpeckers (actually birds of all sorts) and chipmunks, with the occasional field mouse or glow worm making an appearance.

 

View of the front terrace of our east German Bungalow in Brandenburg

Days were mostly spent outdoors engaging in endlessly possible activities ranging from bike rides into the woods, exploring surrounding lakes offerings, foraging berries, walking into town for more supplies, working on small house repair projects or maintenance (roof sweeping here, bench painting there), and naturally garden engagement. Days were also speckled with lots of downtime in between, like yoga on the lawn and journaling in the hammock, late afternoon picnics and slow meanderings picking wild flowers. And napping. Lots of napping, a new hobby I now include in my list of slow-living perks.

 

Nature bound on a path to the woods, Brandenburg Germany

And while daytime was mostly filled with endless activities and small pockets of rest and relaxation, evenings were definitely a slow and soft unwinding, blanketed by the arrival of approaching darkness. Hours were spent hypnotized by dancing flames in the fire pit, drinking tea and melting into the sounds of crackling wood, the hum of endless cricket stridulation along with mysterious forest noises. Conversation around the pit was often philosophical and expansive, leaning towards topics of mysticism, the unknown, and future fantasies with an atmosphere of unique intimacy and personal sharing. As if the fire itself invited a certain dance of the imagination, unobliged by your more regular linear thinking process or guardedness.

 

Evening fire-pit in the countryside of Brandenburg Germany

Usually we went to bed early, without even looking at a clock, just listening to our tired, but happy bodies ready for slumber and yet excited already for another day on the other side of sleep. Ready and eager like children to wake up and do it all over again.



12 things to do while ‘slow living’ in a summer bungalow. 

A personal guide for slow summer days away from the hustle and bustle of city life.

  1. Wake up to the sound of chirping birds and gentle sunlight seeping through the window covering, a soft and golden light filling up the room with promises of the day ahead.
  2. Tip toe outside, while your partner sleeps in, and greet your neighbors, the local chipmunks, on their morning hunt indulging in ripe chestnuts for breakfast.
  3. Bring a pot of water to boil on an outdoor stove or cook top and hand grind some beans in preparation for your morning brew.
  4. Soak in the tree-filtered morning light while slowly sipping your morning beverage and savor the feeling of spaciousness in front of you.
  5. Use your caffeine burst to gather all the fallen pine cones or dried wood scraps scattered around the lawn property, later to be used as starters in the fire-pit for the evening burn.
  6. As the day heats up, set up an outdoor shower for a refreshingly new take on a daily ritual, while enjoying the new textures like moss and wild grass under your toes.
  7. Hunt the surrounding area for wild nettle for homemade tea or dandelion leaves for fresh pesto, as delightful additions for a midday picnic.
  8. Grab a bucket, a handful of soap nuts and your (used) delicates before setting up a homemade wash station, simultaneously enjoying a dose of vitamin D and a meditative moment while hand washing your more regularly used items.
  9. Set up a hammock between your two favorite trees (or just as easily a blanket on the lawn) and grab a book so you can pretend to read, while instead day dreaming and drifting in and out of a light sleep, with the sound of soft wind through the forest as your own personal lullaby.
  10. Indulge in a leisurely late afternoon walk into the woods and on your way back home stop now and then to collect wild blackberries alongside the old dirt road. Sneak some peeks at other bungalow properties scattered here and there, each with their own mystery and allure.
  11. To fill the time after dinner and before bed, get a gentle fire going in a simple fire-pit, using dried pinecones and scavenged wood scraps. Let the flames entrance you while your mind wanders to ancient places and delightful possibilities.
  12. After a few hypnotic hours sipping tea around the fire pit, let the flames die out to just embers and enjoy the deeper darkness around you for some final moments of stargazing, before letting the strong pull for sleep call you in for the day.             

 

While the appeal of slow living is nothing new in this age of constant stimulation and exponential busyness, it seems that the growing interest in a slower pace and more mindfully focused activities is a sign that many crave a deeper balance these days. A balance perhaps between productivity and self care, work and play, man made and organic… and while there is no one path or final destination on this journey, the efforts spent in search of more presence in our day to day and personal meaning in our engagement with society are without a doubt worthy of pursuit.. yet perhaps with a slower pace.

 

This article was written by Molly McDonnell, AVMM’s owner and founder.

All photography taken by Molly during her recent time spent in Brandenburg, Germany.