My personal highlights and tips for Sintra

Palace of Pena

Ceilings of bird paintings, feeling like Alice and falling in love with palaces covered in sugar icing. This totally sounds like Sintra. If you also love palaces, castles, and mysterious gardens, Sintra is just perfect for you. Read about my personal highlights and get some tips for your own trip.

Sintra is around 25 km (15.5 miles) away from Lisbon, Portugal’s capital and therefore a perfect choice for a day or even a weekend trip. The beautiful town is full of palaces, gardens, parks and castles. I only had a day in Sintra and chose to visit the Portuguese renaissance Palácio Nacional de Sintra (Sintra National Palace), the gardens of Quinta da Regaleira and the romanticist Palácio Nacional da Pena (Pena National Palace).

💡 Information about Sintra
Sintra is a small town with a bit less than 30,000 inhabitants (status 2011) and full of colourful palaces, intricate gardens, and ostentatious mansions. It is part of the Greater Lisbon region and is located on the Portuguese Riviera. The town also belongs to the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Since it is located in the hills and mountains of Serra de Sintra, the weather is more pleasant in summer. This fact determined the nobility of different centuries to build their summer residences in Sintra. But the town was also a popular travel destination for wealthy artists in the 19th century who built expensive villas in the town.

❗️ Tip: How to buy tickets
Of course, every sight has also its own ticket office. If you visit Sintra in the high season, it can be also worth it to buy your tickets beforehand online or at the ticket machine in front of the tourist information, next to the train station. There are different entrance fees for adults and children plus most attractions also offer an extra family ticket

Palácio Nacional de Sintra – The royal summer residence
Palácio Nacional de Sintra

The Sintra National Palace is not only directly located in the historic city centre but also counts as the town’s landmark. Especially prominent are its two white towers. It is the best-preserved medieval residence and was used as a royal summer residence from the early 15th till the late 19th century.
I especially loved the colourful walls with the typical Portuguese tiles (called Azulejos) and wild patterns of animals, as well as the ceilings covered in golden ornaments, decorated with birds such as swans and magpies. The rooms are beautifully arranged and give a nice feeling of the life of the royal families of Portugal. The palace shows a lot of different artistic influences such as Gothic, Renaissance, plus Portuguese tiles as their own artistic styles which were affected by the Mudéjar art, an Islamic artistic influence. The entrance cost me 10 € (10.60 US$).



Quinta da Regaleira – The mysterious garden
Quinta da Regaleira
The Initiation Well

Quinta da Regaleira is a big property with a palace, a chapel, and a huge garden around with different wells, fountains, grottoes, small lakes, and towers. I felt a bit like Alice in Wonderland, exploring the park with its labyrinthine ways which are in between even under the earth. Of course, gardeners take care of the park but it still felt a bit feral (in a positive way) with all of the strong colours of the plants and trees. I absolutely loved it. To me, this place was truly magical. Already the palace or I would maybe call it a villa is a bit extraordinary. It was built in Gothic style and decorated with many ornaments, pinnacles, and gargoyles. Also, the rooms inside are extensively decorated, I especially liked the wooden ceilings.
Another highlight was to see the Initiation well, which is located in the middle of the park. If you go down the stairs you will find a tunnel you can follow to also find the Unfinished well. Both of them never served water sources but were actually used for rites. I paid 10 € (10.60 US$) to visit the whole garden including the palace.

Palácio Nacional da Pena – The colourful palace
Palácio Nacional da Pena

Pena National Palace is probably Sintra’s most visited site and part of the Seven Wonders of Portugal, voted by its inhabitants a few years ago. To me, it looked made out of sugar icing with its gaudy and popping colours. The palace itself is influenced by many different styles mainly Romanticism, but also Gothic, Manueline, Islamic, and Renaissance. The palace is surrounded by a huge park which takes some time to explore. Pena Nacional Palace is located in the Serra de Sintra and offers, therefore, a beautiful view over the town and to the Castelo dos Mouros (Moorish Castle). I was lucky enough to see a stunning sundown at the castle which brought even a bigger facet of lights.
You can also visit the rooms of the palace which offer as well colourful patterns, and tiles combined with wooden furniture. I paid a 14 € (15 US$) entrance fee including visiting the inside of the palace. If you only buy a ticket for outside it will be almost 50% cheaper, the ticket costs 7.5 € (8 US$).

🚌 How to reach Sintra
Question number one I asked myself is how to get to Sintra. The easiest way is to take a train from Lisbon. You can eighter way take the train from the station Rossio or Oriente. You can buy the tickets directly on the ticket machine at the station. In 2021, I paid 2.30€ (2.50 US$) one way. The ride takes approximately 45 minutes and the trains usually are going at least twice per hour.
There is also a bus going to Sintra but it takes more time. Going by car is not recommended because the streets of the town are very narrow and there are just a few parking spots in the town itself.  
The view of the Castelo dos Mouros from the Palácio Nacional da Pena
🚌 How to get around Sintra
Sintra is not too big, you can easily walk from the train station to the centre and even continue from there to the further palaces. There is also a bus, especially for tourists, which is therefore also a bit pricy (in 2021 it cost almost 7€ which equals 7.40 US$). Usually, it is more a question of time and your personal fitness level whether you want to take the bus or do a longer trip on foot. From the train station to the Palácio Nacional da Pena which is one of the furthest of the famous palaces, you will walk around 1-1.5 hours but almost the whole way is uphill since the palace as well as the Castelo dos Mauros (Castle of the Moors) is in the mountains of Serra de Sintra. But at least the Palácio Nacional de Sintra and the gardens of Quinta da Regaleira are easily accessible by walking without going up.

My short conclusion: Is it worth it to visit Sintra?

This question is easy to answer: Yes! I loved my day trip to Sintra and was even a bit sad I had not enough time to stay another day. In my opinion, all the sights I visited were worth their money.
Depending on the count of the hours you will spend in Sintra, you should already think beforehand about which sights you want to visit and plan enough time for each. Keep the distances in mind, whether you take the bus or want to walk, some time for lunch, and of course the opening hours. With three sights my day was already completely filled. But you should also ask yourself if you are the kind of traveller who wants to visit palaces for more than one day in a row.

In general, the most common sights to visit are Palácio Nacional da Pena, Castelo dos Mouros, Palácio Nacional de Sintra and of course Quinta da Regaleira. But Sintra and the area around have way more to offer. This can be also nice if you do not like to have too many other tourists around you. You can visit more palaces as the Palácio de Monserrate, Palácio de Seteais or Vila Sassetti. Or if you have a car you can drive to the 7 km (4.35 miles) distant Franciscan monastery Das Convento dos Capuchos. If you plan more time around Palácio Nacional da Pena you can follow the different hiking trails or visit the highest point of Sintra’s mountains Cruz Alta.

You have read the blog post My personal highlights and tips for Sintra on My Travel Journal-Blog.

Berlin’s best spots for the Cherry Blossom-season

Cherry Blossom in Berlin

What the cherry blossom season in Berlin has to do with the Cold War, how Japan was involved in planting the trees, and where to find the best spots for the pink sea of blossoms – all of this I will tell you in the following blog post.

Every year between mid of April and the begging of May, Berlin blazes in a pink sea of cherry blossoms. The time mostly depends on the weather and how early in the year it is getting warm. In general, the trees bloom between two and three weeks.

💡 Information about cherry blossoms
Cherry blossoms (also Japanese cherry) or in Japanese called “sakura” (桜 ) is the white or pink flower of the ornamental cherry tree and of particular importance in Japan. The blossom of the tree is considered to be the national flower of the country. In Japan, it describes the attributes of beauty, departure, and caducity. In Japanese, it is combined in the non-translatable word mono no aware” (物の哀れ) that describes the bittersweetness of a fading moment of transcendent beauty. The cherry blossom season in Japan markers the peak of the Japanese calendar and the beginning of spring.
The Japanese cherry is only used as an ornamental tree in contrast to cherry trees that are planted for the actual fruit.
A present from Japan

Germany received the cherry blossom trees in 1990 as a gift from Japan. East and West Germany celebrated their reunification on the 3rd of October. Therefore, the Japanese TV broadcast TV Asahi started fundraising for the planting of some cherry blossom trees. They received enough money for more than 9,000 trees, most of them were brought to Berlin.

Exchange of spies during the Cold War

The first trees were planted at the Glienicker Bridge in November 1990. The bridge links Potsdam (former East Germany) with (West) Berlin and was especially important during the Cold War since the USA and the Soviet Union used it to exchange their spies. Until today, the bridge is painted in two different shades of green and markers the borderline (nowadays it is just the borderline between two different federal states). The GDR (German Democratic Republic, East Germany), as well as the FDR (Federal Republic of Germany, West Germany), painted both around half of the bridge. The part of West Berlin is in a darker green shade. Not only because East Germany chose a slightly lighter green but also because West Germany started painting the bridge a few years earlier and therefore, the weather conditions stained the bridge.

The longest cherry blossom alley of Berlin

More than 1,000 trees seaming the TV-Asahi-Kirschblütenallee (cherry blossom alley) on the wall trail (Mauerweg) between former West-Berlin and the GDR (German Democratic Republic, East Germany). The alley is more than 100 metres (109 yards) long. Usually, there is also the Hanami Festival. Hanami (花見) is Japanese and means literally translated “flower viewing”. It describes the Japanese tradition of visiting the first cherry blossoms in spring and enjoying their beauty. In Berlin, the festival offers a picnic, Japanese food, and a cultural programme.

❗️ Cherry blossom ticker
The city of Teltow in Brandenburg has its own cherry blossom ticker (Kirschblütenticker) to check if the blossoms are already blooming at the TV-Asahi-Kirschblütenalle, the longest cherry blossom alley of Berlin. The ticker is in form of a photo gallery with a current photo of the bud of a flower, renewed every second day during the season. You can check out the ticker here (the homepage is in German).
Cherry blossom meets German history

The cherry blossom trees are mainly planted along the wall trail (the former location of the Berlin Wall) and also marker some Historian places in Berlin. A lot of trees are under the bridge “Bösebrücke” which was the first open borderline between East and West Berlin on the 9th of November 1989, the day of the fall of the wall.

🚌 Where to find cherry blossom trees
📍 TV-Asahi-Kirschblütenallee (Borderline between Berlin-Lichterfelde and Teltow):
Take the S25 or S26 to the S-Bahn station Lichterfelde-Süd, from there you follow the Holtheimer Weg. After around 550 metres (601 yards) you should reach the cherry blossom trees.
📍 Under the bridge Bösebrücke” at Bornholmer Straße (Prenzlauer Berg/Gesundbrunnen):
The Mauerweg with its cherry blossom trees runs directly under the bridge of the S-Bahn station Bornholmer Straße (S1, S2, S25, S26, S8, S85).
📍 Volkspark am Weinberg or also called Weinbergpark (Mitte):
You can reach the Weinbergpark in around 5 minutes by foot from the U-Bahn station Rosenthaler Platz (U8).
📍 Zionskirchstraße (Mitte):
The Zionskirchstraße is just another 5 minutes walk from the Weinbergpark. If you follow the street in the direction of the same-named church you will find an alley of cherry blossom in the middle of the city.
📍 Schwedter Straße at Mauerpark (Prenzlauer Berg):
The Schwedter Straße on the Mauerpark lays between the U-Bahn station Bernauer Straße (U8) and Eberswalder Straße (U2).
📍 Strausberger Platz (Friedrichshain):
The cherry blossom trees are directly at the U-Bahn station Strausberger Platz (U5).
📍 Gärten der Welt (Marzahn):
Gärten der Welt (literally translated Gardens of the World) offer 22 different garden installations. The park costs an entrance fee and is best reachable with the U5 to the U-Bahn station Kienberg – Gärten der Welt.
Click here to visit the official page and to get more information.
There are a few more spots in and around Berlin, especially at the Mauerweg (Wall Trial) where you can find more cherry blossom trees. These are the more famous spots.
The public transport of Berlin is called BVG, click here to find more train connections.

First written on Wednesday, May 12th, 2021, you have read the blog post Berlin’s best spots for the Cherry Blossom-season on My Travel Journal-Blog.

Little Stories of Denmark  – Short stories, curiosities, and trivia

Tower in Denmark

Little Stories is a category I started on my Instagram channel and where I post short stories, curiosities or trivia. Here you can find all posts about Denmark. #littlestories

#2 A wall of shoes and its story

Which shoes did you wear when you travelled the world, fell in love, went to a job interview, or even when you stayed at home because of quarantine?

This Little Story is about a green wall full of shoes, an artwork from Copenhagen. The work by the Danish artist Jakob Amsgaard was part of a street art compilation on the green walls around the construction works of the new metro in Copenhagen. Since 2011, the fences around are open to artists and their art as a temporary urban lab.
Din sko, din historie, ny start” says the sign on the wall which translated means “Your shoes, your story, new start”. Tell me a story about your favourite shoes when were you wearing them? Shoes have a story along with their owner – but not everyone has shoes. This was the idea behind Amsgaard’s installation from July 2014. During eight hours people could donate their shoes to give them a new story and support not only creativity but also to show some solidarity. Donations and all excess shoes were given to Grace Kbh, an initiative for homeless people of the Blå Kors Danmark (Blue Cross). The artwork drew attention to the problem of homelessness in the neighbourhood of Copenhagen. 

The wall of shoes: Din sko, din historie, ny start

Follow me on Instagram to read more #littlestories:

You have read the blog post Little Stories of Denmark  – Short stories, curiosities, and trivia on My Travel Journal-Blog.

Urban Art in Berlin

Art is on the street – at least in Berlin. Nowadays, Berlin is one of the hotspots for Urban Art in Europe and is used by people from all over the world as a canvas.

The graffiti scene started in the underground of New York in the 70ties and came within a few months from America in the capitals of Europe. In West-Berlin, street art was mostly used by groups which were excluded from the society back then. But already at the end of the 70ties, the interest in urban art increased. Artists explored new techniques and styles. They used the street to leave their messages – very often political motivated – and took part in recreating their city. Especially the Berlin Wall was used as a screen. Urban art also established in East-Berlin however the artists were more limited here since their art had to conform with the Socialistic Realism of the GDR (German Democratic Republic).

Urban Art is the main term which combines street art, graffiti and general art in a public space.

Schöneberg
Urban Nation Museum

The Urban Nation Museum (Bülowstraße 7) for urban contemporary art was founded in September 2017 in Berlin-Schönefeld (free admission). Not only the exhibitions but also the housing facades are changing approximately once a year. The museum enables a deeper look into urban art, its history, artists, and techniques. The Urban Nation initiative supports the exchange with the neighbourhood of Berlin – not only in its own museum walls but also with the project One Wall. The idea is to bring five artists to Berlin every year to repaint old house walls and create a colourful Berlin – a lot of the following murals were also painted by this project.

Bülowstraße

No wonder that the Bülowstraße around the U-Bahn stations Nollendorfplatz and Bülowstraße is full of urban art because this is where the Urban Nation initiative has its offices. The building right on the opposite side of the museum (Bülowstraße 101, corner Bülowstraße/Zietenstraße) was designed by the Berlin-based Ecuadorian artist Roberto Rivadeneira in October 2020. As part of the One Wall Project, he created a metaphor for colliding time periods and named it Because the moment simply is. But also the buildings next to it are covered with street art in different sizes and forms (Bülowstraße 94-98).


Next to the museum, on the same street side (Bülowstraße 11, 12) the works of the two Spanish artists Deih XLF (first photo below, left) and David de la Mano (first photo below, right) decorate the houses. The latter was painted afresh over another work of David de la Mano which was damaged through work on the houses. The artist prefers to draw silhouettes, trees and other monochromatic symbolisms. This also confirms itself in the new artwork. It is named Gray Habit and shows a black and white silhouette of a woman.
Altogether eight murals are at the facades of the houses (Bülowstraße 32) next to the U-Bahn station Bülowstraße. The paintings are from different artists as D*Face, and Word to Mother from England, the US-American collective Cyrcle, as well as Shepard Fairey, and the group Berlin Kidz. The newest is an additional painting of a naked woman with a red glove and a paper bag over her head from 2019. Portraying persons with the just mentioned paper bags in a critical context is a trademark of the German artist Christian Böhmer. His mural Speak Up. Stand Up. draws attention to the violence against prostitutes on the street of Bülowstraße.

Mitte
Haus Schwarzenberg

Concealed in the backyard of the Haus Schwarzenberg (Rosenthaler Straße 39, next to the Hackesche Höfe) does a dream come true for urban art lovers. Here are all kind of colourful murals, paintings, graffiti, collages, and stickers. A closer look is recommended because there are so many messages, drawings and little details hidden. Some of the paintings are changing with time. Besides the art, there are a studio, a cinema, two bars, the museum of Otto Weidt’s Workshop for the Blind, and a permanent exhibition about Anne Frank.

U-Bahn station Heinrich-Heine-Straße

Next to the subway exit of Heinrich-Heine-Straße is the entrance to the rock club Sage. The door itself is hidden through paintings. Sage shares its rooms with the KitKatClub, Berlin’s most famous fetish club. Right on the opposite of the entrance of KitKatClub is the mural Unter der Hand (freely translated: secretly) by the German artist CASE.

Just around 700 m further in the direction of U-Bahn station Moritzplatz (Heinrich-Heine-Straße 36) is another mural called Face Time by the artists Various & Gould right in front of a parking slot. The painting is a combination of the techniques of serigraphy and collages.

U-Bahn station Birkenstraße

The boy with the injured elephant is from the German street art duo Herakut and the two Swiss artists Wes21 and Onur. The mural carries the message As long as you are standing, give a hand to those who have fallen – and was created through the first edition of the Berlin Mural Festival. It is located next to the subway station Birkenstraße (Stromstraße 36).

Friedrichshain
RAW-Friedrichshain and East Side Gallery

A must-see on every sightseeing tour through Berlin is the East Side Gallery (Mühlenstraße 3-100) between the S-Bahn station of Warschauer Straße and Ostbahnhof. The historical monument is the longest (well) preserved segment of the Berlin Wall. In spring 1990, after the fall of the wall, 118 artists from 21 countries painted and decorated the east side of the wall. Most pieces show the Political changes around 1989 and 1990.

The RAW-Friedrichshain – or RAW-Gelände (Revaler Straße 99, next to the S-Bahn station Warschauer Straße) – is one of the most popular places for night owls in Berlin. Besides plenty of smaller clubs and bars around the corner, it is also a perfect spot for street art lovers. The walls exhibit all kind of art pieces. The RAW-Friedrichshain are former rail train halls which are used for an alternative culture project nowadays. It is also the home of the Urban Spree, a small art gallery with changing exhibitions (free admission) but also a location for concerts and festivals.

Holzmarkt25

Holzmarkt25 (Holzmarktstraße 25, close to the S-Bahn station Ostbahnhof) creates its own village somewhere between the districts Mitte, Friedrichshain, and Kreuzberg. Besides a music school, a kindergarten, and different creative-working companies, it has its own bars, restaurants, and saloon for events. But more importantly, it offers nice spots to chill at the Spree, get a beer from the very own brewery – with the club Kater Blau next to it. The houses and walls of the alternative quarter are full of paintings and art.

Volkspark Friedrichshain (park)

Attack of the 50 Foot Socialite (Am Friedrichshain 33, diagonally across from the Fairy Tale Fountain of the park) is a mural by the US-artist Tristan Eaton. It is influenced by the iconic film poster of the US-movie of the same title from 1958. The painting was also part of the One Wall Project.

Kreuzberg
U-Bahn station Gleisdreieck

Aufstand der Farben (freely translated: Riot of the colours) was a project of Interbrigades e.V. in July 2009. The mural (Luckenwalder Straße 11) covers 600 square metres. It was created by the Latinamerican street artists Shamaniko, Hechiza, Somos and UKI as well as four Berlin artists. It took four months to finish the painting.

U-Bahn station Hallesches Tor and Tommy-Weisbecker-Haus

Next to the exit of the U-Bahn station Hallesches Tor (Mehringplatz 28/29) are the murals Make Art Not War by the US-American Shephard Fairey and Hoodie Birds by the Danish-artist Don John. Both paintings are part of the One Wall Project in 2014. Just a few steps further are two other murals (corner Franz-Kühls-Straße/Friedrichstraße) by Aryz (third photo) and the Spanish street art duo PichiAvo (second row, first photo) which were created during the Urban Art Week in 2019. A lot more paintings are hidden around the corner: There is a housing complex (Wilhelmstraße 2-6) covered in portraits of people with different ethnic backgrounds.

My favourite mural shows an elephant with a balloon in form of the earth by the Berliner artist Jadore Tong. It is on the backside of the Tommy-Weisbecker-Haus (Wilhelmstraße 7) in the background of a basketball court and right in front of the Theodor-Wolff-Park. The house is a self-governing residential collective named after the left-wing extremist Thomas Weisbecker. But also a view around the house is worthwhile since all four walls are covered with art.

U-Bahn station Kottbusser Tor

The Astronaut/Cosmonaut (Oranienstraße 195) is part of the project Backjumps – The Live Issue von 2007. The mural was created with help of stencils by the Portuguese artist Victor Ash. The motif was inspired by the Cold War when the USA and the Soviet Union not only started their arms race but also tried to outplay themselves on space technology. The divided city Berlin was part of this conflict between East and West. This is why Ash wanted to place his painting close to the former borderline. The lettering around is not part of the original but was added later by other influencers. The mural is close to the U-Bahn station Kottbusser Tor. On the way, you can also find the older lady with the pelican and coffee in her hand (Skalitzer Straße 134) – This mural is right next to a coffee shop.

Prenzlauer Berg
Schwedter Straße

The street Schwedter Straße in the district Prenzlauer Berg was repeatedly one of the locations for the One Wall Project. In 2017 the Spanish street artist Deih XLF started with his science-fiction mural (Schwedter Straße 34) where he reflects his introspective of emotions and draws his inner life. One year later the Berlin artist trio Innerfields created another house facade (Schwedter Straße 30) – a cynical observation on digitization and social development. The newest painting links the well-known cartoon character Snoopy with realistic optical illusions (Schwedter Straße 29). The English artist Fanakapan combines two- with three dimensions – a closer look reveals the artist with his smartphone taking a photo as a reflection in the 3D balloon. A little further is the international filling station FIT (Schwedter Straße 261). Not only the petrol station is sprayed but also its walls around. In the pretty side road with buntings is a book store with paintings of a child riding a giraffe and an elephant (Choriner Straße 49).

Other districts
Tegel

The street Neheimer Straße in Tegel is the home of four skyscrapers with eight murals on both sides of the houses. They were painted in different years during the One Wall Project. Some of them are already overpainted by new urban artists – these eight murals are the current ones.
The first one Summer of Peace (Bernauer Straße 133/Neheimer Straße 2) was created in 2015 by the Australian FINTAN MAGEE and is inspired by the children’s book A Child’s Garden by Michael Foreman. Around one month later the US-American twin brothers How and Nosm realised their painting On Tiptoes (Neheimer Straße 6) at the Artpark in Tegel.
One year after, in 2016 followed the mural The Starling (Neheimer Straße 6) by the Dutch duo Collin van der Sluijs and Super A. The paintings of the two artists seem often dreamy and surreal. Their chosen motif symbolizes the strength of a collective. Another mural created in 2016 is Lads are back (Neheimer Straße 8) by the English duo The London Police who use bold colours and simply iconic characters to create positive art. Playing Cards (Neheimer Straße 2) painted by the Italien Pixel Pancho followed a few months later. Typical for the artist is his work with earthy colours and robot-like figures.


In 2019 the female Swiss duo Queenkong worked in collaboration with the Polish artist Tankpetrol. Their mural 2268miles & Lunchadora Pachamama (Neheimer Straße 4) combines the work Pilot Girl (on the left side) by Tankpetrol with the naturalistic style of the Swiss duo. The latter points out the importance of the mindfulness for nature.
The newest two projects of the Open Wall at Artpark Tegel followed in 2020. The Berlin painter, illustrator, musician and concept artist Jim Avignon created his mural (Neheimer Straße 8) about an adventure in a balloon and the future between uncertainty and departure. The latest mural from BustArt plays with the style of graffiti-pop and comic. Departure (Neheimer Straße 4) is the name of his painting and is a reference to the former airport in Tegel.

Neukölln

This painting was more of a chance find: On the front side of a parking slot (Donaustraße 94-95) of a supermarket is a huge mural with the theme Brave New World.

Charlottenburg

Covered in paintings is the front side of a hostel (Stuttgarter Platz 17) in the district Charlottenburg. The house facade was created by the Irish artist Dom Browne.

One of the oldest murals is the one of the ship Phoenix (Wintersteinstraße 20) from 1989 by the Berliner artist Gert Neuhaus – it is in surprisingly good condition especially in the consideration of urban art as ephemeral one.

Why do volunteering

This article might be a bit different from my other ones – today I want to talk about voluntary work (ergo working without getting paid) and why it can be a great opportunity for you. (Just to clarify I’m more talking about clubs, associations and societies – not about an official gap year). In this blog post, I want to share my personal experiences with you. And I would like to introduce you to my student association AEGEE – at least this part is about travelling, I promise.

Discussion about cultural differences in Russia at my student summer exchange 2018 in Saint Petersburg.

First of all, volunteering can involve a lot of different fields and you can join it in all kind of life circumstances. The definition is more or less to work and give your time for free – like a community service. But to be honest, yes it is especially an interesting topic if you are younger and still in your status of education like school, university or in an apprenticeship (but latter makes it harder to find the time, I know, I have been there as well). But in general, there is no age limit – especially not in the terms of getting older.

A lot of people link voluntary work with social work and yes this can be involved, but there are also plenty of other ways to volunteer especially in sports, cultural or economical ways. It can be a schools club or an initiative of your neighbourhood – the only important point is that it supports your interests – after all, you invest your time for free. Some organisations also offer volunteer work in other countries – this way you are actually able to combine your interest in working for a project with travelling. Even though, the interest in supporting the chosen project should be the main impulse. It probably also depends on how strong voluntary work is supported in your country. Actually, I heard from friends that in the Netherlands joining a student club is obligatory.

Moderating the 5th anniversary show of my radio club couchFM (Berlin)

I grow up in Germany where I feel the whole system of voluntary work especially in school is not that strongly supported. In school, we only had a very little choice in different clubs, I was part of the art club, Computer club and later of the pupil’s magazine. But I think for me the really important voluntary work started when I began studying. Lucky me, we had some student associations which presented themselves on our welcome event of my major – theatre and media science. This is how I joined the radio club of my university in my first semester. A few years later, I also became a member of AEGEE when I started my master studies in Berlin.

The flag of my student association AEGEE-Berlin at a summer event

What is AEGEE?
I want to gain the chance to actually tell you something about my student association of AEGEE – because it could be interesting for you (in case you live in Europe) – especially since you seem to love travelling. AEGEE is a student’s forum and the shortcut of Association des Etats Généraux des Éstudiants de l’Europe – or easier we are one of the biggest interdisciplinary student organisations of Europe. We strive for a democratic, diverse and borderless Europe. This is also the reason why AEGEE has locals who are not part of the European Union. We are non-governmental, politically independent, and a non-profit organisation. Our network includes around 10,000 members from over 160 cities in around 40 countries – from the Canary Islands until Siberia. To me, AEGEE supports especially the political and cultural exchange between young people and empower them to take an active part in society.    
For more information visit aegee.org

Craziest experience with AEGEE  

Until today I travelled to ten different countries with AEGEE where I took part in different activities and sessions around topics like history and local culture, arts, political discussions, project and self-development. One of my favourite memories is first when I travelled as a delegate to the Agora – our member’s meeting where all the locals of AEGEE come together (which means approx. 700 people from different countries) – to discuss five days about the future of AEGEE and Europe. But also to spend some time with friends you found in the past years in AEGEE and explore the city together (the location of the Agora changes with every meeting). You can read about my time as a delegate in the article on the right side.


Second, another special experience with AEGEE was when I decided to become the main organiser of a two weeks exchange in Berlin with 35 people from all over Europe. The exchange was actually part of the Summer University (SU), one of the biggest and oldest projects of AEGEE, it started in 1988. The main idea of the SU and why it was founded is to promote European integration by doing cultural exchanges and to explore the multicultural dimensions of Europe. But also to find a place to discuss and meet new people from all over Europe. One main rule of AEGEE is to make all of our events affordable for all of our members which gave us a fixed financial frame. It is a really important rule but made it even harder for us to organise the summer exchange in the way we imagined it. Every participant pays only 14 EUR (~16.75 US$) a night, therefore we offer the accommodation, two meals a day, the whole programme, all sessions and the rides during the event (we went to a lake, on a day trip to Potsdam and for three days to Dresden). At some point, it was really challenging for us but in the end, we created the best exchange possible – and I think our participants really enjoyed their time in Germany. 

What can Voluntary work do for you?

I believe volunteering is more than just about to brighten up your CV (but this is actually a nice side effect). In the student associations I joined, I actually got a lot of responsibility and the opportunity to lead my own projects. It is always your own choice how much work and time you want and can bring in but I really enjoyed to use all the opportunities I got – and even to work in a leading position. It is a lot about reaching your own goals, being creative or more open-minded, working with a team, trying new things and ideas without being afraid to fail (and lose your job). There were so many different sections I was able to try out. Another good point is that I actually met a lot of great people – because all of us are care for the same or similar topics it is so much easier to find common interests.

Therefore, I hope I could convince you to give it a try – search for pupil’s clubs in your school, join student associations, take a look for regional projects around your home town or even international projects you can join.

Or maybe you are already volunteering or have other interesting thoughts on this topic? Feel free to leave a comment below.