Author Alexa von Heyden (42) tells how her lakeside home became a haven for family and friends during the Corona crisis.
"Really now?!" My friends were horrified when my husband and I announced three years ago that we were moving with our 6-month-old child from coveted Prenzlauer Berg out to Brandenburg. Life without a yoga studio, poached eggs and the opportunity to enter a luxurious temple of consumption within a few streetcar stops was unimaginable to them. For me, too. But there I sat: with my little daughter strapped in a carrier in front of my belly, in the midst of countless moving boxes in an extremely renovation-needy but comparatively still affordable home overlooking the lake, without a single café, designer boutique or Späti within walking distance. I started to cry.
When my tears dried, my transformation began: I grew out of the Berlin blogger bubble, an abstract world that paralyzed my personal development by constantly comparing me to other women, and into a cute neighborhood where it matters less what kind of job I've just landed (no one understands anyway, and if they do, they find my self-promotion embarrassing), but is much more interesting which variety of mallow is thriving in my garden or what I make from the plums on the tree: cake or compote?
I was constantly outside and not only learned to live with the seasons, but evolved into a renovation expert who can hold a hammer drill as gracefully as she can hold a clutch. Knocking down walls was my personal moment of empowerment. Meanwhile, I watched my daughter grow through country air and contact with her grandparents into a brave and confident child who knows most of the plants and animals around her and whoops and jumps into the lake in the summer.
When the first Corona lockdown came in March, I realized that we had dared to move at exactly the right time. Unlike my friends, who were squatting with their children locked away in their admittedly very tasteful but suddenly rather cramped old apartments, I opened the door to the terrace and sent my child into the garden to let off steam on the trampoline or pluck a few stalks of chives from the herb patch for lunch. We took a spin around the lake on the running bike and met: no one. We hiked through the woods and were still alone. Social distancing was not difficult for us. The few restrictions we had were a closed daycare and that the grandmas didn't visit. And of course there was no more toilet paper here in the village. But my daughter prefers to poop in the garden anyway.
Since the corona pandemic, our house on the lake has become much more than just our retirement home and our child's future inheritance. Villa Peng has become a retreat for my family and friends. Because no sooner was the lockdown over than my cell phone rang and text messages started coming in, "Hey, what are you guys doing this weekend?" The Berliners all suddenly wanted to join us "out" at the lake. At the beginning, only a coffee was planned; nevertheless, I laid out the bedding. Because I didn't want to share the privilege we have here only on Instagram..
My friends came by train or car; it only takes an hour from the main station and many wondered on arrival why they hadn't come earlier - after all, within Berlin one often travels an hour from door to door. They looked tired, depressed and pale. We drank the arranged coffee, then walked barefoot through the garden, picked the sweet cherries from the trees and went swimming. My friend S. didn't come back on the SUP for hours as she celebrated her regained freedom in the middle of the lake. I watched from the shore as she lay on the board, drifting with the waves and looking up at the sky. It became a ritual that many visitors repeated. Or they would fish a garden tool out of the shed and start digging in the earth. It was evening, we grilled sausages, sliced beet and drank beer from the bottle. We talked honestly about what worried us, frustrated us and made us despair. Including me in the country. Many a tear flowed and ensured that a bit of the months of stress sitting in all our bones fell away. The heartfelt honesty of our conversations replaced the missing hug.
Like S., many visitors spontaneously stayed overnight, extended for another night, or came back on one of the next weekends. In the summer, when many friends did not want to spend their vacation abroad, they came to us, including my siblings with their children. Some slept in the house, others with a caravan or tent under the hazelnut trees in the garden, if not simply under the stars on the terrace. Some weekends we had so many overnight requests that I had to cancel some.
Meanwhile, the summer is over, but the visitors still come. As long as it is still allowed. We walk together through the forest, collect chestnuts, boletus and butter mushrooms and look for the tracks of the wolf that roams the meadows between the villages. As my friend S. drove back toward Berlin, she said as she left, "Thanks for letting me be me again." That's exactly the sex appeal of Villa Peng, even if you have to make many a cultural or culinary compromise in the countryside: You learn to put up with yourself and are relieved to discover that it doesn't necessarily take a Bottega Veneta bag on your arm, 10-course oyster dinner at a trendy restaurant or neon pink-lit fiberglass mirror in the hallway to feel a sense of happiness as a human being. It works with dirt under your fingernails, too.
PS: Our next renovation project at Villa Peng will be the old barn. We want to open a Bed & Breakfast in 2021 so that the dream of country living can be experienced by even more people around us. We are already looking forward to it!