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Lessons From The Leather Man

The minute I arrived I Florence I felt a deep sense of love in my heart.  The beautiful city offered me beautiful views, fed my delicious mozzarella, presented me with wonderful art, and most importantly gave me the opportunity to open my wallet to purchase so many gorgeous items.

I knew nothing about leather before going to Florence, but I knew I was on a mission to buy some.  After shop hopping for an afternoon, I was directed to visit the Florence School of Leather or Scuola del Cuoio as the Italians call it.

The school reminded me of an episode of Project Runway.  Mannequins and designs lay everywhere.  Scraps of leather were being sewn together.  Needles and threads were meticulously moving in and out, in and out between colorful pieces of leather.

A room full of hundreds of colorful leather items, belts, purses, coin purses, luggage, keychains, and so much more greeted me as I walked through the doors.  I selected my items and took them to an old man named Vincent and a young Italian man in an apron standing behind a work bench.

Vincent neatly wrapped up my leather items and handed them to the young man.  I watched as the young man stamped my initials on my leather items.  AMP.  Anna Mary Pryatel.

It hit me.  Those initials were more than letters.  They were my identity.  They had to mean.  When people saw AMP I wanted them to think of the person, I was, kind, gentle, smart, ambitious, honest.

Vincent handed my items to me; all stamped up with AMP.  It was that day that I realized I learned a crucial lesson from the leather man, someone who didn’t even know he was teaching me a lesson.  Always try to be a better person of yourself.  Your mark, whether it’s stamped on a piece of leather or a license plate or somewhere else, is important.  It reveals your identity.

Remember always to be you and leave your mark on the world.

 

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Understanding What it Means to be Human: A Visit to Dachau

There I sat, twenty minutes on a train, anxiously waiting for my stop where I would exit, get on a bus and get off at the Dachau stop.  I sat twiddling my thumbs, thinking about all the movies I had seen about World War II and concentration camps.  I was nervous and felt a little guilty that I was spending a Sunday afternoon giving attention to such a horrific, historic event.

The bus was quiet, yet crowded.  Everyone seemed to look as if they were anxious about visiting Dachau.  Some people closed their eyes as if they were praying.  Others held hands.  Some quietly joked to break the silence.

Apartments lined the street leading up to Dachau.  People were going about their usual Sunday, taking the kids to the park, grocery shopping, and going on a run.  It was just another day in Germany.  For me, it was the day I realized how precious human life is.

The words “Arbeit mach frei” welcomed me to the camp.  “Work will make you free.”  I walked through the camp in silence.  It was just how the movies portrayed it.  A dreary, open space with buildings, or barracks, and a crematory in the distance.  The stories of survivors, victims, soldiers, and leaders were written on the walls of the museum.

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Standing in the middle of the camp made my heart pound.  I felt like I was reliving a nightmare I hadn’t been part of.  But the next minute, I felt a sense of relief.  A sense of relief that these memorials exist to ensure this will never happen again.  I was reminded of how precious life is and how grateful I am to get up and go to work each day, live in a safe neighborhood and not fear my government.

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As I walked in silence down the gravel road lined with tall green trees, I could hear it all.  All the stories.  Those who survived.  Those who tried to escape.  Those who were separated from their families.  Those who died.  Those who murdered.  Those who felt like they had no choice but to follow the leads of their government.  The trees told a story too.  Once, barren and skinny, now full grown and green symbolizing the Germany of today.

When I reached the end of the gravel path, ending my time at Dachau, I prayed for the first time in ages. And wondered how such a thing could happen.  The silence seemed to get quieter and I slowly walked out of the camp, suddenly understanding what it means to be a human being on this earth.

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An Unexpected German Lesson in Tipping

Tipping is always a topic of discussion while traveling abroad. In America, it’s common to tip 20%. In Italy, just a few extra Euros would bring me extra bread and a free half gallon of wine. In Prague, an extra koruna or two got you loads of gratitude and an after dinner shot for free at times. In Germany, I learned a very different lesson about tipping.

Late night Berlin celebrations led my friends and me to a feast at a bodega where we bought out the deli and wine aisle. We cheered to my friends’ recent Berlin marathon finish. Not only did he finish, but he beat his goal. Prost! Soon, cell phones were dead, and we had no way to get back to our Airbnb. My friend went inside the bodega and asked the cashier if he could plug in his phone. The man recited something in broken English and offered out his outlet. My friend took out some coins and replied “Danke. Here you go.”

The cashier motioned no with his hands. “I don’t accept tips here. I sell my products for the price they are marked. More money will not make me happy.”

“But you did something extra for me. So here’s a tip,” explained my friend.

The man motioned no again, and my friend placed the coin on the counter.

“Look at me,” demanded the cashier.

My friend looked at him.

“Being human isn’t extra,” replied the cashier and he passed the coin back to my friend.

How do you tip in Germany? You tip in kindness. Pay it forward.

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Berlin Hospitality Outside Our Apartment Walls: An Airbnb Experience in Berlin

As I stepped off of the plane at the Berlin airport, I quickly pulled out my passport, holding it like one of those characters from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory who won one fo those golden tickets The long-awaited stamp on my passport was about to happen. I had managed to have customs organize my Italian stamps so well back in the Spring, and I had found the perfect place for my Berlin stamp on page 3. I walked and walked and walked and soon realized; there would be no stamp in Berlin. Disappointed was an overstatement. Why was the stamp so important? Because it branded (no pun intended since I’m a brand strategist 🙂 ) me as a temporary resident of Berlin for the next four days. My blank page 3 looked disappointed as well.

After a long journey by train and foot, we arrived at our Airbnb in a cozy little neighborhood in Berlin, but our apartment was difficult to find due to lack of technology, sim cards, and a delayed schedule. We found our building and my boyfriend hunted to find the internet to get the key from our Airbnb host. I sat on the steps of the apartment, still upset that my passport would never tell the story of my travels to Berlin and overwhelmed by jetlag. I just wanted to get in the apartment, take a shower, and unpack.

I began to notice the neighborhood. It suddenly hit me that it was not an ordinary neighborhood. People set out their glass and plastic bottles outside the public garbage cans so those who were less fortunate could trade them in for money. Older kids rode their bikes slower, so their younger siblings didn’t have to ride home alone from school. People shouted from balconies “Hallo” and asked if they wanted a coffee from the shop down the street. Another tenant in the building even offered us her phone and let us in the lobby so we could take a break from the sun. Was I witnessing extreme amounts of kindness in this foreign city? It seemed so much different than anywhere I had visited.

Soon, our wonderful host Vilius arrived. He was a no-nonsense type of man and welcomed us as if we were his friends. He pulled out a map, telling us where to go and what to see. He warned us about the not so nice parts of town. The apartment was clean and modern. No complaints! I highly recommend staying at his place if you visit Berlin. He was patient and kind despite our late arrival and he even cracked a smile behind his stern, Germany personality. He seemed to fit right in with the other nice folks in the neighborhood.

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It hit me after a few days. It wasn’t the wonderful apartment or Vilius’ amazing hospitality that made our stay so wonderful. It was the apartment’s front steps and windows that overlooked the neighborhood. It was the people that lived outside the walls of our Airbnb. They helped us experience what it means to be a Berliner: kind. If it weren’t for Airbnb, we would have never experienced the people of Berlin the way we did. I gave Vilius’ apartment five stars, and his front porch ten stars. 🙂 I wish there were a “made me feel like a local” rating dimension for Airbnb.

Sometimes it’s not about the cleanliness of the apartment or how many beds it holds or if the WiFi is fact. Sometimes it’s about if your Airbnb apartment will introduce you to new people and make you feel like a true local. I soon realized I no longer needed a passport stamp to feel like a Berliner. I just needed to be kind to everyone around me. Thanks to Vilius’ Airbnb apartment, I learned what it means to be a Berliner.

Check out Vilus’ place here: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/88981?checkin=09%2F24%2F2015&checkout=09%2F28%2F2015&guests=3&s=XKpw