Home Behind the Scenes Hashtag Vanlife: A New Escape to the Country

Hashtag Vanlife: A New Escape to the Country

by Silke Elzner

My life is directed by crazy ideas that seemingly come out of nowhere.

It had been a crazy idea of mine to move from Germany to Australia. Born on a cold, wintry February day when I had been overwhelmed by the pressure of my university exams.

Having our first child had been just another crazy idea, inspired by a visit to a friend of mine who had just given birth.

To take the plunge and take out a crippling loan to buy our first house had been another crazy idea which happened to come up when I was working from home and secretly browsed real estate sites because, frankly, I had been bored shitless.

And just recently I felt that there was another crazy day about to emerge.

An idea so powerful and so strong that I simply couldn’t ignore it any longer. Yet, I realised very early one that it would turn into just another of those life-changing moments. I could feel how it was taking hold of me, how it gave me restless nights, sent me daydreaming over and over again.

City dwellers like us love the idea of escaping to the country. Who wouldn't given the beauty of Brandenburg's forests and lakes?
City dwellers like us love the idea of escaping to the country. Who wouldn’t given the beauty of Brandenburg’s forests and lakes?

Dreaming of a House by the Lake

A summer house by the lake. Who wouldn’t want something like that in their life? A refuge from the big city, a respite in natural surroundings. Waking up to the songs of birds, a cup of steaming coffee on a verandah, endless hours just drifting on the still surface of a lake.

Seriously. Who WOULDN’T want that in their lives? Let me tell you, if you live in Berlin this would be absolutely on top of your bucket list.

Don’t get me wrong: I love my big city life in Berlin. I wouldn’t want to have it any other way. The many restaurants in our neighbourhood, the glimpses of the lives of strangers through living room windows, the endless sirens of emergency vehicles, the aroma of hash in the courtyard when I come home at night.

Yet, I feel the need to break out of this circle of familiarity and routine from time to time. Living in the city, I do miss the comforting green of the trees, the scent of freshly cut grass, the inner peace one can only feel when you take break on a bench right next to a lake and just listen to the silence.

It was this longing for change and inner peace which gave birth to my latest crazy idea.

The desire to wake up in the morning in a different bed which would be both, strange yet somehow familiar. The dream of owning a small second home somewhere in Brandenburg on the outskirts of Berlin, ideally right next to a lake. The option to escape the city for the weekend and enjoy the peacefulness of nature.

A relaxed weekend by the lake. If you live in Berlin this is not too difficult to do.
A relaxed weekend by the lake. If you live in Berlin this is not too difficult to do.

Looking for an Escape Route

Of course, by the time that this feeling hit me clearly and unmistakably, I had already a destination in mind.

We love to spent our summers there, enjoy this very special atmosphere and the pristine beauty of the lake. Only a couple of weeks ago we had returned to Lake Stechlin for the first time after the long winter break to go on a bike ride with the kids.

Our little family of four cheerfully rode along the forest trails, carefully navigating around roots and stones along the way. We ate smoked fish in a bun by the lake, circumnavigated large pits filled with sand and sped along sealed roads under the shadowy canopy of trees. It smelled fresh, it smelled untamed, in short: we had a wonderful time.

And this is when it happened: I noticed an empty house by the lake. It was a former inn with broken walls and shattered windows. Abandoned. Ruined. Unsalvageable. Yet, it was right there by the lake in the centre of the village. A perfect location, what a privilege to own something like this.

Looking at the overgrown building plot it hit me: Maybe a summer house was much more work than I at first realised?
Looking at the overgrown building plot it hit me: Maybe a summer house was much more work than I at first realised?

Between Dreams and Reality

Of course I do realise the cost involved with basically buying a huge ruined house that would need to be demolished to make room for something new. Financially, this would be a very risky endeavour.

But this discovery got me thinking.

What if there was another piece of land somewhere, or maybe a small house, smaller yet equally well located? Maybe it was somewhere out there, just waiting for us. A second home in the country, a refuge from hectic big city life. 

And so my obsession kicked in. My online search for suitable lots and holiday homes returned three possible candidates within our preferred area just north of Berlin. One of these actually looked quite promising, and it got me really excited to just think about the possibilities. Would this be our latest project? There was just one way to find out. We would have to make the trip and check out the properties ourselves.

One fine weekend, we hit the road and visited all three candidates. Soon we realised that nothing in life is perfect though, and that dreams were not the same as reality.

One lot was part of a new holiday home settlement which was largely unfinished, not even the roads had been done properly yet. Surrounded by horse paddocks, it offered no access to a beach, and there was a bunch of mosquitoes around just waiting for their victims. As much as we wanted to return to nature, this was too much nature for our liking. 

The other holiday home opportunity was part of a GDR style holiday park which was occupied with grey-haired owners who, I am sure, weren’t too keen to have new neighbours like us.

Even the third option, our favourite, did turn out to be just not right. A lot of money for only glimpses of lake views, the eerie feeling of being right in the middle of the forest.

In the end I realised I might not be the right person to buy or build a holiday home as I just wasn't ready to tie myself to a piece of land.
In the end I realised I might not be the right person to buy or build a holiday home as I just wasn’t ready to tie myself to a piece of land.

Was this the End of our Dream?

I am glad we did take that trip to the country to get a reality check and verify if the potential candidates would meet our vision of a second home in the country. It definitely made me realise that I was not ready to commit in this way.

I did like the idea of waking up in nature, sipping a coffee to the song of birds. But I wasn’t ready to tie myself to a fixed location. It is just not who I am. I lived in too many very different places over the last 15 years that I couldn’t commit to something as steady as this.

As we were driving home after our house hunting adventure in the country, suddenly a caravan appeared in front of us on the motorway. “How about something like this,“ I blurted out without even thinking. My husband thought for a moment and then he said: “Yes, why not?“

We were simultaneously thinking camper vans, not caravans, of course. After all, we are familiar with camper vans. We had traveled thousands of miles in camper vans exploring the Australian outback and New Zealand’s North Island. We love the practicability and flexibility, the mobility and the comfort of a camper van.

The more we bounced this idea around on our drive home, the more we came to like it. If we were owners of our own camper van we could easily escape on a Friday night and wake up in nature on a Saturday morning. We could make use of long weekends and explore more of Germany.

In summer, we could even head to Scandinavia or Croatia or Scotland. The possibilities were endless. And best of all, a camper van was much more affordable than a holiday home.

There he is, Wutzy. I am in love with this baby and cannot wait for summer!
There he is, Wutzy. I am in love with this baby and cannot wait for summer!

May I Introduce to you our new Addition…!

It’s been weeks since I wrote the above bit and since then many things have happened. We have found a camper van with a layout that we liked. We have bought it practically overnight and collected it from a location some 7 hours from where we live. We have already spent a night in it when visiting family. We are in love.

Our new baby is called Wutzmobil. Don’t ask why, it’s not easy to explain, but I will make sure I will get a nice sticker as a name tag for it.

Without even realising it, we are actually following a new trend here in Germany, where pretty much everyone seems to turn away from long-distance flights in favour of more environmentally friendly alternatives like camping and city trips by train.

I guess, I am trendy now: #vanlife.

I am sure you will hear more about our baby in the coming weeks. For now, we are off to another adventure, on a cruise in the Caribbean. I have the feeling this will be our last cruise, so I want to enjoy it as much as possible. The rest of summer will be spend with Wutzy. I cannot wait!