Berlin Notebooks and a deep respect of all things German

THIS awful, disruptive pandemic has prompted us to question what’s really important and how we could possibly have better, more enriched lives. Somehow, we are all slaloming our way through this crisis, either on our own, or with the help of others. It has become obvious we don’t necessarily expect life to return to the old “normal” and the things we have learned during the pandemic may better equip us to deal with future challenges. We will certainly never take good health for granted again or freedom of movement.

Technology has certainly helped us through the crisis, replacing face-to-face interaction and enabling businesses to continue operating in some shape or form. In the UK, we lead more stressful lives than many of our European counterparts – other countries have achieved better work-life balances and we have become hung-up on the practice of “looking busy”. At the same time, we have allowed technology to dominate our lives – it has become a case of life moulded around tech rather than tech being adapted for our life styles.

After a 40-year career in the City of London, the last 20 being in the era of mobile phones, Blackberries, email and SMS, I had become accustomed to waking each day and checking email, texts and social media as part of my routine. During the day, I was still checking emails religiously and I was never too far away from a screen. Four years into retirement, things have started to change – I no longer get urgent emails, I don’t have a boss demanding my immediate attention and I do not need to be informed on the latest headlines on CNN, Bloomberg, Reuters and the FT. The pandemic has finished off what was left of my corporate mindset.

I have long been a fan of notebooks, they have been something of a comfort blanket for me over the years – I rarely go anywhere without one. Whether it was a to do list, editorial planning, holiday checklist or even shopping, notebooks have helped me stay reasonably organised and as they say, writing things down is a calming experience. For someone who has had to deal with anxiety issues, I have often sought solace in writing. In fact, I am at my happiest and most relaxed when I am writing, either with a fountain pen or typing away on a keyboard.

The pandemic has introduced me to a more minimalistic lifestyle and notebooks are an important part of that process. What’s more, the Berlin Notebook has become indispensable, a simple, clean and no-fuss book of decent paper. Simple but sophisticated. Germany is good at notebooks. During my career with Deutsche Bank as an editorial director, I had a deep respect for Germany and all things German – from Kicker magazine to Bauhaus, Kraftwerk, pencils and potato salad!

It also helps that I have a particular fondness for Berlin having spent time there in the early 1980s and subsequently for business and pleasure during my career. My youngest son, also a writer, questions if I would be so keen on the Berlin Notebook if it was called the Boston Notebook or Birmingham Notebook, but I care not. Pretentious, moi?

As the world has rediscovered the art of writing in a little book, the Berlin Notebook has confirmed to me that I was right all along – there is something very sensual about writing with an ink pen, something very indelible about what you scribble down on paper. I would argue that the process of writing enables you to absorb the information better than if you were typing on a PC. I now recall how, when I was a small boy, if I had any pocket money, I would buy a notebook and pen and would spend hours filling it up. Nothing much has changed, in fact, the Berlin Notebook looks very similar to the six-penny memo pads I used to buy as a lad. 

Neil Fredrik Jensen, December 2020

Neil Jensen is a business/football writer specialising in the finance and cultural side of European football. Published in a broad range of publications, his clients include consultancies, newspapers and financial institutions. His most recent book, Mittel, includes stories from his travels around European football. He spent 26 years with Deutsche Bank, his last position as editorial director. Half Danish, he is distraught by the UK’s decision to leave the European Union.

If you are into football, Neil’s GOTP magazine is a must-read:

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