This week we caught up with Asaf Leshem, one of the great guides we work with, to talk about his experience as a private guide in Berlin:
Q: Who is Asaf Leshem?
I come from a small village in the Galilee. I left high school without any formal qualifications – as I preferred instead to spend my youth exploring the country I lived in. Now I have almost completed a PhD in ‘Dark Tourism’. I started travelling the world when I was 21 and immediately fell in love with the world of tourism. After working in Beijing for several years, I went to a tourism college in New Zealand. I left after one year and moved to Preston, England where I obtain a BSc in Ecotourism. In 2007, I moved to Berlin. It made perfect sense as it combined urban life with close proximity to nature. After 11 years, I still find this to be the perfect balance for me.
Q: What inspired you to become a guide?
When I lived in Beijing I liked showing visitors the city, sharing with them what I learned, taking them to places I knew and loved. At the time, it was not a fulltime profession. Berlin was a different story. From the start new friends showed me interesting parts, pointing out buildings and locations where important historical events took place. My curiosity grew bigger, especially as my family’s heritage is from Berlin and other parts of Prussia.
When the opportunity presented itself, I was happy as it is a job that combines curiosity, intellectualism, and involves working with people (mostly) outside.
Q: Have many tours have you led?
I think it is somewhere in the vicinity of 1,800 to 2,000. I’m waiting for a really cold winter day to go over my past calendars…
Q: Which tours do you specialise in?
Q: Can you remember your first tour?
Vaguely. I remember that the adrenaline rush made me go through with it even though I was nervous, and happy that I had fun with the tourists, even if I didn’t have the knowledge I have today.
Q: What’s your favourite Berlin recommendation for travellers with young children?
The child in me loves the Aquarium, but I know that for many children it’s hard to leave the Lego Discovery Centre.
Q: Can you recall a particularly memorable experience from your tours?
I once took two cyclists to some of my favourite spots in the lakes of north Berlin, near Tegel, then back to the city through the Berlin Wall Memorial at Bernauer Strasse. We talked about everything, from Jewish history to the rise of the Third Reich and Berlin today. On the way back, it rained heavily and we got completely drenched before we found a cosy bakery to hide in. When we brought the bikes back to the shop, the shop assistant asked my guests if they had a good time, and they replied together: “we would be happy to go again right now!”
Q: If you were to visit Berlin again for the first time what three things would you want to experience again for the first time?
I would like to visit the Oberbaum Bridge, to go for a run along the Spree into the park of Schloss Charlottenburg, and to walk on August Strasse between the Clärchen Ballhaus and Heckman Höfe.
Q: Do you have a particular book or movie about Berlin that you like to recommend to clients? Why?
My favourite Berlin book/movie is Herr Lehmann (translated into English as Berlin Blues). It represents to me how crazy and tragic, but also beautiful and funny Berlin is really like.
Q: Say hypothetically that you’re posing for a photo and have the chance to chose one accessory that compliments your personality: what would you choose and why?
My favourite Alba Berlin umbrella. It protects from the rain and the sun, and I love using it to point out things.
Q: What is your favourite place for a day trip from Berlin?
I love cycling around the lakes of Brandenburg. My favourites areas would have to be the Spreewald (south of Berlin) and the Uckermark (north Brandenburg).
Q: What advice would you give a new guide?
Experience the city’s different boroughs as much as you can. Go to as many museums as you can – especially those related to history and archaeology. Prioritise time to read about Berlin’s history. Cycle and walk around the main sites. Then, take your brave friends and family members who visit you, and experience guiding them!
Asaf Leshem is just one of the many great Berlin guides I have come to work with and trust with clients over the years – as with many of the best guides in the city he is a member of the Berlin Guides Association.