ETA (18.07.14): The official Alive in Berlin trailer/video is up now!  I’m in it a few times 🙂


Alive In Berlin everything is possible
“Berlin – everything is possible”

Last weekend I travelled to Germany to attend Alive in Berlin, a global world gathering devoted to personal transformation, aspiration and creating change.

It all happened on a whim – my friend Lizzy (the excellent lady behind The Pillow Fort) had won a ticket to the conference but was no longer able to go, so she offered it to me!  It meant booking plane tickets and a place to stay at the very last minute, travelling alone for the first time in my life, and going to a foreign city that I’d never visited before.  Could I really do this?  I wasn’t sure, and yet one of my overarching goals for 2014 is to be more BOLD – what better way than this?!

12 days later, I found myself on a plane to Berlin, terrified and utterly exhilarated.

Initially I didn’t have high hopes for my ability to mingle/meet people, so I told myself:

It’s ok if I don’t manage to speak to more than 2 people.  It’s ok if I feel uncomfortable or out of place.  The purpose of this weekend is to do a big scary thing, to experience a new city and to do something that makes me feel bold.  

Little did I know that it would be one of the most formative and powerful experiences of my life.

plane alive in Berlin travel passport Ryanair

clouds flight airplane travel Europe Alive in Berlin

The journey over was lovely, and I even got the whole row of seats on the plane to myself! Once I landed, I challenged myself to use the public transport system to get to the hostel, and it went very smoothly!  Woohoo!

Berlin city centre
graffiti abandoned theater Berlin Mitte Alive in Berlin travel
graffiti on an abandoned theater


I stayed at an amazing hostel called Generator Berlin Mitte – I can’t recommend that place enough! It was clean and inviting, the staff on the 24-hour reception desk were helpful and friendly, and they had lots of great facilities including a bar, cafe, chill-out room, travel shop, free wifi, and a luggage store.   I shared a dorm with 5 other women, where I had a private bunk complete with my own power socket and lamp!  It was so much better than I could have hoped, and excellent value for money!


artwork inside the hostel

The following morning, I met up with my internet friend Jo Moore, who was also going to the conference alone.  Jo is such a cool person – she writes an amazing self-confidence blog called Twisted Sleeve, and is currently living on the road travelling around Europe.  It was awesome to meet her and hang out IRL, and we vowed to keep in touch.


Kalkscheune Alive in Berlin
the courtyard from above.

The conference took place in a beautiful venue called The Kalkscheune, conveniently located just around the corner from my hostel!

Alive In Berlin laynard Catherine Elms

The organisers gave us a goody bag when we arrived; this contained stickers, temporary tattoos, a lanyard, a free notebook, and some healthy snacks.  There was also a breakfast buffet and a selection of teas available throughout the day – perfect!

temporary tattoo live fully die empty Alive In Berlin
My temporary tattoo – “Live Fully Die Empty”

When we first got there, I felt very shy and nervous, but I wanted to make an effort – I didn’t want to stand in the corner awkwardly fiddling with my lanyard all weekend!  Jo was great though, and we got chatting to a few people within 15 minutes or so.  A few people approached us to say hello, including a very lovely solopreneur and mama called Maaike, whom we ended up becoming good friends with over the course of the weekend.

The conference was made up of a series of talks, workshops, and group exercises, interspersed with long breaks where attendees were encouraged to mingle.  The talks focused on a wide range of inspiring topics, including adventure, travel, aspiration, work, money, relationships, and community.

Greg Hartle - photo by Zoé Namêche Alive in Berlin
Greg Hartle – photo by Zoé Namêche

Greg Hartle‘s opening speech ‘Live Fully, Die Empty’ was probably my favourite of the whole weekend, and brought the audience to a standing ovation.  Entrepreneur Greg has a fatal kidney condition and has been given 9 months to live, and in his powerful talk he spoke to us about the importance of contributing to the world we want to live in, and overcoming obstacles in order to get where we want to be.  He urged us to take in his words and make changes as soon as we got home, to create instead of consume. It was incredibly inspiring, and immediately kick-started me into thinking about what I needed to do to achieve my dreams.

“Your temporary circumstances don’t have to become your permanent reality” ~ Greg Hartle

Pam Slim - photo by Zoé Namêche Alive in Berlin
Pam Slim – photo by Zoé Namêche

Afterwards there were a few more talks and exercises, each broken up with some time to mingle and snack.  Attendees were also encouraged to write love notes and hang them on the walls.  I wrote “fuck shyness” on mine; someone uploaded it to instagram and it got 100+ likes!


I had a delicious Japanese buffet lunch in the city centre with Jo, Maaike, and her friend Raimke, who is a super talented animator!  We stuffed ourselves with yummy sushi, got to know each other, then headed back to the venue for an afternoon of workshops and talks.

Dave Ursillo Creative for Life Alive in Berlin
photo by Zoe Nameche

Dave Ursillo‘s Creative For Life was my favourite workshop of the afternoon – we did a lot of brainstorming on the value of creativity, and the effect of our surroundings and daily practices on creativity.

“Surf the Fear – significant things can’t be achieved without fear.” ~ Pam Slim

“It’s better to have a little of something than a lot of nothing. Start something.” ~ Michael Gebbons

Carl Paoli - photo by Zoé Namêche Alive in Berlin
Carl Paoli – photo by Zoé Namêche

The day closed with another superb talk – Sarah Kathleen Peck on the upside of loneliness.

“All great and precious things are lonely.” ~ John Steinbeck

“We get lonely because we’ve forgotten that home is inside ourselves.” ~ Sarah Kathleen Peck

That evening, there was an AIB party at the venue, with live music and a DJ.  I felt super nervous about going (especially as Jo wasn’t there, so I was entering completely alone!), but I told myself to make the effort, be bold, and stay even if only for an hour.

Alive in Berlin party photo by Thomas Stibenz
photo by Thomas Stibenz
Alive in Berlin party photo by Thomas Stibenz
photo by Thomas Stibenz

In fact, I ended up staying out until 1.30am!  Within minutes of arriving, an impromptu cha-cha lesson had broken out on the dancefloor and I was paired up with a stranger and tearing up the dancefloor before I knew what was happening (a lovely chap whose name escapes me – sorry you had such a clumsy partner)!

Alive in Berlin party

I then pushed myself to approach a group of people and asked if I could join them, and they of course were very friendly and completely engaged me in their conversation.  🙂

Alive in Berlin party

At this point, a beatbox troupe began performing, who were incredible.  My iPhone camera doesn’t do their sound justice, but here’s a sneak peek:

After a few drinks, I felt much more relaxed and friendly, and so ended up chatting to a number of people over the course of the evening – it was amazing!  I had the BEST conversation with a Mr Martin Schlachter, whom I bumped into around midnight.  We talked a lot about prog rock mostly (I found a fellow Spock’s Beard fan!), but then the conversation moved to music in general, work, and travel.  He’s another seasoned traveller, and was telling me all about the time he visited the Northernmost point of Europe (Cape Nordkinn)! So cool!

The party was the highlight of the weekend, and perhaps one of the best nights of my life. I had 3 drinks inside me so my inhibitions were set free, the lights and the music were beautiful, and the evening had that gentle tipsy haze where everything felt magical and sparkly.  There I was, in the gorgeous city of Berlin, which I’d navigated all by myself.  I was surrounded by smart, talented people who I felt a connection with, who understood my values and my ambitions, who were building better worlds.  I’d spoken to people, made new friends, pushed myself out of my comfort zone in every sense of the word – and everything worked out beautifully!  I’d learned so much – about my strengths, my scars, being alive and being joyful.  After months of feeling small, frightened and anxious, here was a glimpse into my true power and potential.  I felt electric.

Ben Austin - photo by Thomas Stibenz Alive in Berlin
Ben Austin – photo by Thomas Stibenz

The following morning kicked off with a 2-part talk by Ben Austin.  The first half was all about emotional self-mastery and harnessing intentional action outside ourselves, which I found incredibly powerful and inspiring, and felt very relevant when I consider the current tensions in my life.  However, during the second half of his talk he spoke about men and women aligning themselves with their inner (respective) masculine/feminine energy, which was a theory I totally disagreed with, but that’s another story.  I did manage to pluck up the courage to speak to him afterwards and ask him a few questions clarifying his theories, but I felt quite intimidated and didn’t get my point across very well so my questions weren’t really answered properly.  I’m glad I tried anyway, I would usually be far too frightened to do something like that!

“Your life is created by the emotions you consistently feel.” ~ Ben Austin

There was a beautiful moment when discussing body language and invoking emotions – Austin asked everyone in the room to run up to someone new and greet them as if they were a long-lost friend!  Immediately everyone around me began pairing up and I couldn’t find a free person to hug, and so I fiddled with the clip on my lanyard and felt embarrassed.  Then suddenly, I made eye contact with a stranger from across the room – the biggest smile spread across his face and he dashed towards me and scooped me up in his arms, yelling “oh my god it’s you! It’s so good to seeeee you again!”.  Can you imagine how good that made me feel about myself in that moment?!  Oh, you Alivers – just when I teeter towards the brink of self-doubt, you yank me back again 🙂

Alive in Berlin Catherine Elms Solveig Malvik
me and Solveig – photo by Thomas Stibenz

My favourite workshop of the day was titled ‘Prototyping The Self’.  It was a very peaceful and encouraging space; we opened and closed with gentle relaxation exercises, and spent the session focusing on various aspects of the self including our personality archetypes, dreams, fears, values, and networks.  My partner for the workshop was Solveig Malvik, a life coach who offered me some great insights and ideas to explore.  It was particularly reassuring to see such a successful woman share many of the same self-limiting ideas as me!  Perhaps I can achieve great things too?

Chris Guillebeau - photo by Zoé Namêche Alive in Berlin
Chris Guillebeau – photo by Zoé Namêche


After a few more workshops and speakers, the day closed with a talk from Chris Guillebeau (author of The Art of Non-Conformity), on the topic of quests and extraordinary adventures.

“I love to have rich days, to have well-lived days” – Lea Holzer

“What’s worth living for?” ~ Chris Guillebeau

The organiser Jana Schuberth – an amazing woman, who was also very down-to-earth and friendly throughout the whole weekend – closed the conference with a thank you speech, and encouraged us all to commit to working on what makes us feel alive.

“What world do you want to live in? What will you do to build this world?” ~ Greg Hartle


More awesome people I met at AIB:

– Cathleen Goldner, a 53 year old blogger who travels the world alone!  She and I hit it off at the party when we discovered a mutual love for Doctor Who, and we chatted for over an hour about sci-fi, gender politics on reality TV, and travel!

Kate Evans, one of the people I chatted to when I arrived at Friday night’s party, who was so approachable and friendly.  Since AIB she’s set up a blog called The Daydream Project, a very cool idea.

– Krzystof, a cheerful young chap from Poland who approached me when I was stood alone feeling self-conscious, and engaged me and introduced me to other people 🙂

Tom Ewer, one of the friendly entrepreneurs I met on Friday night. It gave me a great confidence boost when he congratulated me for being able to speak Welsh, a skill I’ve never really given much weight to! (Although he did tell me that he hated Doctor Who… but meh, everyone has their flaws :P)

Rob Young, a fellow Brit who has a super amazing project called The 100 Dollar Club.  What a beautiful thing to bring to the world!

–  Narmada Ramakrishna, a multipotentialite from Geneva with whom I had some very deep conversations on identity and the self.  She told me I was “fascinating”. <3

Coco Berlin, who told me she recognised me from the Facebook group and hugged me hello!  So lovely!

Other super awesome blog posts about Alive In Berlin:

Sarah Kathleen Peck: Are You Living? Because sometimes, I can forget.

Maaike van Dijk-Bokkers: What I Learned At Alive in Berlin

– The Freedom Experiment: How Much Time Do YOU Have?

– Tom Ewer: The 28 People That Helped To Change My Life Last Weekend

– Always Happy Travels: How One Weekend Changed My View Of Berlin And Transformed My Life

– Andrzej Tucholski: 14 Lessons I’ve Learned From Alive In Berlin 2014

Read part 2, 10 Things I Learned at Alive In Berlin!

p.s. Last month I also travelled around Japan – read all about it here!

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