Travels with Mala including a Tibetan Buddhist Hospice near Berlin

8 mn read

Mala Brinsden

I have always loved travelling. It runs in the family, I watched my older brother go on his adventures in the 60s to the US with his long hippy hair. He was even refused entry in some states and ended up having to buy a short wig.

Then it was my older sister’s turn. She went to Italy to be an au pair, followed by the next sister, who also went to Italy as an au pair. What’s funny is they never liked children, it was just one of the available, respectable and safe options for young girls at that time.

When the first sister came back, she talked of going to live on a kibbutz in Israel next, but dropped that thread when she met a friend and moved to London.

I would pick up that thread when I was 20 years old, six months after my mum died.

I went to Israel, on my own within a group arranged by Kibbutz representatives in Golders Green, as I was drawn into the idea of communal life and travelling.

It was my first time flying in a plane abroad, as my first ever time was when I did a parachute jump.

This was followed by many periods of travelling over the years, including inter-railing, working on an animal sanctuary in Greece with 120 dogs to take care of, going on to Turkey and then getting the bus back home to London from Athens in Greece, house building in Kenya with Habitat For Humanity, and in 2003, going on a 16 months adventure around the world which took me to San Francisco, Guatemala, Belize, Fiji, New Zealand and Australia. This changed my life in so many ways.

From 2014 until lockdown, I went on yearly adventures to India and Sweden and then in 2022, I went on a tour to Ghana to see and learn the traditions around death and funerals.

In March this year, I had a life-changing event when I had to sell the house that I had bought with my brother back in 2007. The mortgage was due, and I couldn’t buy his share out and he didn’t want to renew, being in his 70s and of poor health.

Having this gap in my life, I took it as an opportunity to travel once again.

This time, I decided to go to Sweden to the area of Skane, where the teaching and community I belong to, Short Moments, has a beautiful centre in the heart of the forests and lakes.

I spent seven weeks here, helping set up for the Summer Gathering, living and serving in community, taking part in the Short Moments Teachings, and all the other incredible offerings and opportunities, performing on the Community Stage nights which we live streamed to our worldwide Sanga and friends.

When it came to pack down at the end of the Gathering, I was still unsure about what my next step would be. I trusted that all would become clear and unfold naturally, as life does when we let it.  A friend invited me to go back to Amsterdam with her and I accepted.

I had a wonderful time there, winding down after the busy summer and enjoying life living in an apartment overlooking one of the canals and watching life on the canal and streets go by, in the glorious sunshine.

I went to art exhibitions and museums and for bike rides, visited parks and sat in the cafes, had the traditional fries with mayonnaise and took a boat ride on the canal which I have never done before as all my previous trips revolved around visiting the coffee shops back in the 90s.

And now just using the bathrooms in the coffee shops has an effect on me.

We visited the markets on the weekend and I found the inspiration for my first novel.

After a week in Amsterdam, I took a train to visit another friend in the traditional town of Lingen, North Germany, just across the border from the Netherlands.

It was my first trip to Germany.

I remember the Dalai Lama telling people to visit somewhere you’ve never been before. So having many friends there, how could I resist?

I stayed at my friend’s home, and whilst she was out at work, I would go out on the bike and explore. We also went along the canal which was just huge, much wider than any canal I’ve ever seen before!

We went to the local swimming pool and spa which was out of this world for a population of 50,000 people. I do admire the way Germans have such high standards.

Not one pool, but five, of which I spent two hours exploring, followed by discovering the sauna was both indoors and outdoors, complete with relaxation rooms, a restaurant and many types of sauna!

It was women’s day and of course everyone is naked, not a swimming costume in sight. I love that the Germans (and other European countries) are so relaxed about being naked. I spent seven hours there, it was magical!

And then I found out about the 49 Euro monthly travel pass where you can travel the whole of Germany by regional trains, buses, trams and underground. Well, that was all I needed to hear, I was off again.

I even left some of my ‘load’ to make things easier for my upcoming trip.

I got in touch with other friends in Germany, first planning a visit to Berlin and another friend en route.

I took the train to Hannover and put my luggage in the storage at the station, and went across town to visit the Spengler Museum which featured so many incredible pieces of modern art. I nearly missed my connecting train as there was so much to see in the museum!

Continuing on my journey, I headed south to a small town of Alen where my friend was waiting on the platform with her dog, Lotte. We headed straight to the beautiful forests for a long and refreshing walk.

I spent one night staying on the organic veg farm where she lives, which was a lot of fun as my friend plays the ukulele. On Saturday morning first thing we danced and sang in the kitchen, all before breakfast. The food was amazing as it was fresh from the farm.

We visited a fairytale castle which I have only seen pictured in books and films, before I went off to an air b ’n b and enjoyed the luxury of having the time and place to myself complete with a hot bath.

Waking up to the sound of the cockerel, it was time to be on my way n back to Hannover and onwards to Berlin to stay at a friend’s apartment, which came with a flat mate and two gorgeous dogs.

Whilst soaking up the vibes of Berlin, I met up with another friend for trips to the Turkish market, the parks, and the cutting of my hair!

Taking advantage of being in the heart of Berlin, I went all over visiting different places, including a heartbreaking visit to the Jewish Museum, and also the East Side Gallery (where I made firm friends with a two year old girl who insisted on ‘high fiving’ me and telling me she loved me and as well as having our photo taken together by her parents).

As part of my trip and work in end-of-life planning, I sought to see how other countries approached this sensitive subject, and I was delighted to discover that there was a Tibetan Buddhist Hospice not so far outside of Berlin. I emailed to ask if I could visit and they agreed to it.

On the eve of my 58th birthday – which was the age my mum died – I took a train from Berlin to the lakeside town of Bad Saarow, where I visited Sukhavati, the Tibetan Buddhist Hospice and was absolutely blown away and this visit will stay with me always.

I was invited to stay over the night, after having a personal tour around the buildings and grounds, and it was so obvious to see and feel the love and devotion in action in serving those who are close to the end of life.

After having my birthday breakfast the next morning (boy do the Germans know how to do breakfast!) and taking last photos and visit to the lake at the edge of the gardens, I made my way back to the train station and headed back to Berlin.

The next train journey was to Munich via Nurnberg staying with a friend in the countryside east of Nurnberg before visiting my friend in Munich.

One of my main wishes was to go on train journeys through the Swiss Alps and see some special castles so I took the train from Munich to Fussen, which borders on Switzerland and gaze upon the magical and fairy tale Neauwenstein castle which Disneyland modelled their castle on).

I was not disappointed. The train wound through the hills with the Swiss style houses, and green grass with a clear view of the Alps ahead. I was very excited to see this and when I arrived at the train station, along with many others, I put my luggage in storage, and headed off to see the castle.

I had had an idea that I would take the walk up to the Castle, but upon arriving and see just how high up the castle was and the estimated length of time it would take, plus assessing my fitness levels, and the allocated time of entry, I decided to take the shuttle bus up instead.

There was an air of excitement in everyone, very much like Disneyland, and I can understand why.

It’s the most visited castle in the whole of Germany!

Ludwig II was a creative, a dreamer who loved nature, swans, enchanted magical stories and the arts. The rooms and floors of the castle reflect this.

Scenes on the walls and ceilings are of enchanted forests, stars, and from Wagner’s operas which Ludwig II sponsored.

He even had a grotto built within a corridor through a secret door!

The castle was built and filled with great extravagance which didn’t go down well understandably.

The council members conspired together to have Ludwig removed from his post of King of the castle.

And after losing two out of the three wars of Bavaria, Ludwig retreated and isolated himself in his castle.

Rumours spread of his ‘insanity ‘and without even an examination by a doctor, (poor guy was probably a bit depressed and not a natural ruler) they declared him mad and locked him up in an asylum.

One night he took a walk with his doctor around the lake and they were both found drowned in the lake the following morning.

No one knows what happened and remains a mystery, a secret taken to their graves.

Ludwig was 40 when he died and he left the castle unfinished. The rooms and floors that were finished are stunning and are lovingly restored.

If you are ever in Germany, it’s definitely worth a visit, and the surrounding  views and scenery are spectacular!

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