A dog, a cat, and a hedgehog walk into a barn

Ready to get back to nature, we booked one more workaway in the town of Lychen “Don’t Ask Me How to Pronounce It” Germany. We eagerly took the train away from Leipzig, leaving behind the noise and tension of the city in turn for a tiny community in the countryside.

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For the next couple of weeks, we assisted with renovation and farming efforts at Re: hof Brandenberg, a reconstruction project aimed at turning a crumbling barn and clergy housing into a tranquil, pastoral holiday destination. Hosted by a couple of artists from the Netherlands, we were joined by several other volunteers, a cat, a dog, a horse and a confused hedgehog who could never quite figure out how to get out of the barn once he’d wandered in.

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In the morning, we’d wake up and fix ourselves some coffee before getting started for the day on tasks like repairing grout on the barn’s deteriorating brick walls, which I found oddly mesmerizing. Sometimes we’d cook for the other volunteers or clean the house in addition to spending a few afternoons cutting down an enormous field of grass with a scythe and hauling rocks around. It was exhausting but totally satisfying work and at the end of the day, we’d sit down to a homemade meal and then a chat around the fire.

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On our days off, we’d ride bikes down to the lake nearby and talk about building up the nerve to jump in like the locals did. In Eastern Germany, nudism is commonplace. People of all ages stripped down to dunk themselves in the cold, clear water like it was no big deal and after a while of being around it, you remember, it really isn’t. While locals came down from their homes to take a dip or even play naked volleyball (why?) we sat around wallowing in our repression, fully clothed. From there, we’d take some time to bike through the forrest’s endless paths and eat at the town’s one restaurant, never once missing the city.

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When it was time to leave, we were bummed the time had gone by so quickly but knew we couldn’t leave Europe without spending some time in Berlin. We’d heard too many claims of “If I could live anywhere… ” not to check it out for ourselves. Would Berlin be our new Portland? We had to find out.

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