The last few days, I’ve been at the Language Influencer Summit in Berlin.
It’s been quite an experience…
Here in Berlin, nothing’s as new and shiny as you’d expect.
In Spain they talk about Germany as if it were the promised land. Where people treat each other with great civility, and all the infrastructure is sparkly and new.
At least the great civility part seems to be true.
On Thursday afternoon, I arrive at the dismal Tegel airport, and make my way to the hotel in a taxi with no GPS. It takes a while, and I can’t pay by card when we arrive. Cash only.
But at least the hotel is nice. Modern. The TV turns on as soon as I put the keycard in, and it’s playing a long video of logs burning in a fireplace.
Time for some digital nomad fun…
Thursday at Alexanderplatz
I’m a couple of days early for the main event, but no matter…
I’m scheduled to meet some people from the conference in the afternoon.
On the way, I stop near Alexanderplatz for coffee, and the girl in front of me in line has the yellow ribbon – symbol of the Catalan Independence movement – pinned to her backpack.
I ask. Yes, she is Catalan. Yes, she does want independence.
We speak Spanish while waiting to order, and then go to a table and have our coffee together.
I manage not to offend her… I think.
For drinks, later, Gabriel “Netzbekannt” Gelman has suggested a place that’s got peeling paint on the walls and a disco ball in the bathroom.
In other words: alternative.
Alba from Españolizarte agrees: a disco ball in the bathroom is a bit disorienting.
After a couple glasses of wine, Gabriel (the only local among us) suggests we drink a round of Berliner Luft.
We accept, and the waitress brings four tiny plastic shot glasses.
It tastes just like Listerine.
Eventually, Gabriel leaves, and Dr Gareth “How to Get Fluent” Popkins arrives. A few hours (and some Vietnamese food) later and I’m back at the hotel, having a Remy Martin at the bar.
You know what they say: “When the Remy’s in the system, ain’t no tellin’…”
I’m so tired can’t even remember the rest of the lyric.
Soon, I’m back in the room, falling asleep.
Friday: the influence is palpable
Do I know anyone in Berlin? Probably.
I spend Friday morning doing pushups in the hotel room and working on the computer. Even influencers have to work from time to time. (And this hot bod isn’t going to be nearly as hot if I stop exercising.)
Before I know it, it’s 1PM and I’m ready for lunch.
I decide where to go by looking at the photos on Google Maps. Once I’m at a reasonable-sounding restaurant, the menu makes no sense – it all seems to be some variation of pork with potatoes and cabbage.
So I pull my phone back out, and when the waitress comes, I order a schwartzbier and point to a picture of pork steak with cheese sauce. The waitress laughs for about 5 minutes, then goes back to tell the kitchen staff.
“Some guy just ordered off of Google Maps! Ist cool!”
After lunch, I walk down to meet Seonaid “Perfect English Grammar” Beckwith so we can go to registration for the summit together.
We try to find a beer first, but it’s apparently an all-Middle-Eastern neighborhood and most of the places don’t serve booze.
It’s a bit disconcerting: we’re in Berlin, and we can’t find a beer.
Finally, we find a smoky old pub where the woman serves us something syrupy and brown.
You know that urban legend about how all Germans speak English?
If the German word for beer didn’t happen to be “bier” we probably wouldn’t have gotten anything to drink at all.
The pub is full of wizened old men, and they’re playing the Ghostbusters theme song on the radio, as if it were real music.
“If you’ve had a dose / of a freaky ghost baby / you’d better call… GHOSTBUSTERS!”
We sit for several minutes and try to drink our beer before deciding it’s time to bounce.
The summit most definitely has beer… and some mediocre Italian wine.
After a couple of hours of “networking” – whatever that means – with the other attendees, a few of us head off to dinner. The neighborhood is mostly kebab shops, with sit-down restaurants being something of a rarity.
A few calls and half an hour of Google Maps later, we find a place that has exactly one non-vegetarian dish. Slow-roasted pork with cabbage and rosti. Not bad.
Saturday: the Language Influencer Summit begins
It all sort of runs together, but the main conclusion is this: I already do pretty well at SEO. What I need to work on is team building.
Everyone there seems to be very “successful” with their online business – literally everyone – says it’s because they’ve got a good team behind them.
For lunch, I have Shawarma. Morena’s told me about it – it’s a huge pile of meat, french fries, and some sort of cheesy, tomatoey pancake. Not bad at all.
Ellen de Visser finishes the day with a piece of wisdom that’s worth writing down: “In life, failure or giving up shouldn’t be options. Just succeeding or learning.”
We eat dinner at a Mexican restaurant (also no beer) that seems to be run by Sudanese people. Calling the food “Mexican” is a bit of a stretch, but it has avocado and hot sauce and canned corn.
Down the street, afterwards, we find a bar. Marija, who actually grew up under the Soviet Union, says it “looks really communist.”
We go in to get some cheap wine anyway. There’s a sign on the wall that says “Fight patriarchy and hate cops”.
I hate it when signs tell me what to do.
Sunday: the Summit continues (and ends)
The next day I’m up even earlier, due to the time change. Theoretically the EU is going to get rid of daylight savings time, “in the future”.
For now I’m up at the crack of dawn, and need at least 3 coffees to get going.
The coworking has a manual espresso machine, just like I used to use 15 years ago when I was a barista. Grind, tamp, brew. Grind, tamp, brew. Since I’m one of the few who knows how the thing works, I end up making coffee for a lot of people.
It brings back nice memories. Youth and minimal responsibility. Biking around Phoenix. Almost no expenses. Not in any tax bracket.
But really… who am I kidding? Mostly, that shit sucked.
By the time I’ve had 3 coffees, I’m almost too jittery to sit down. But sit I do: the conference is starting.
Silver “MagicLingua” Ilves talks about pre-selling a product before even making it, to make sure your audience actually cares.
And finally, Idahosa “Mimic Method” Ness talks about 6-figure product launches.
Afterwards I go to get dinner with Marija. But since there are so few actual restaurants in the neighborhood, we end up in the same Spanish restaurant as everyone else.
There’s a lot of post-conference tipsiness happening.
As well as some fancy huevos rotos, some carrillera, and some decent Rioja.
Good times are had by many.
Monday: transport adventures in Berlin
Back at the hotel, I somehow get 9 consecutive hours of sleep, and wake up with a rare feeling of euphoria – plus, I’ve had a couple of rest days, and my muscles aren’t sore anymore.
Time for a last breakfast with the girls.
Marija suggests a Russian restaurant across town. But today, Berlin’s transport is on strike. The only thing open is the S-bahn. Buses and U-bahn are closed.
In any case, it’s a beautiful sunny morning, and I walk all the way.
Turns out, basically every neighborhood in Berlin is nicer than where we had the conference. The Russian restaurant is full of beautiful old furniture, and (like many restaurants around the city) is lit by candles at night.
I have a massive egg and sausage breakfast, and then we all go our separate ways: Seonaid to one train station, Marija to another.
Later, I meet up with Lina “the Busy Linguist” Vasquez, who wants to interview me about my story. It soon becomes clear that really, I should be interviewing her.
She speaks 9 languages – at least 6 of them more or less fluently.
She’s also got a nice camera setup. We sit on a park bench in front of her tripod and talk for a while – by this time it’s back to near freezing.
By the time we’re done, I’m feeling a bit strange about leaving tomorrow.
It’s been a great day.
What exactly prevents me from just stringing great days like this together? I’m not sure. Probably just my routine. I seem to feel better when I get out of my little ruts – as nice as my little ruts tend to be.
Something to contemplate.
I consider going to visit the massive Soviet monument nearby, in Treptower Park, but decide to go to the center instead.
When will I ever have another chance to walk around on a sunny (if cold) spring day in Berlin?
Maybe next year… or maybe never.
Better make the most of it, just in case.
At the conference, Benny “Fluent in 3 Months” Lewis talked on video about bus-proofing your business: if you get hit by a bus tomorrow, will your business be able to go on?
Do you have a well-trained team? Do you have a system?
Or are you just making it up as you go along?
I’m definitely doing the latter. Winging it, now and always. But maybe it’s time to change that.
Soon, if all goes well, I’ll be back in Barcelona.
For now, let’s enjoy the day.
I go to get something to eat at another typical German pub.
On the radio, they’re playing the Ghostbusters theme song again.
Somethin’ strange / in your neighborhood / Who you gonna call? … LANGUAGE INFLUENCERS!
P.S. You can find out more about the Language Influencer Summit here. It’ll be held in Berlin once again, at the end of March 2020. Maybe I’ll see you there!