Let’s be honest. Settling down is fiction. Humans have always been travellers - wandering in Nomadic groups, living harmonically with nature and creations of the earth. No fashionable clothes, no homes, no worries. The need to move and travel, to not tie ourselves down to a single mailbox, is imprinted within us. Nils connects with his nomadic side, as he spends a majority of his time travelling; Ethiopia, Tanzania and Oman last week, Berlin today and Tokyo tomorrow. He is a nomad at heart.
Fee-Gloria Groenemeyer photographs Nils Unterharnscheidt at Mega Models, who's nomadic heart is vibrant. It is in his blood. It seems to be a thing in his family, while his parents travelled around with him since he was four. Now he can’t stop walking, he just has to continue. Today they explore Berlin, and he let's himself submerge into each location to properly take it in. Imprinting it in his mind, before he moves to the next stop.
In a chat with the German boy, Nils talks about silence and reveals his secrets to fighting loneliness. It’s not a house that your heart gets attached to. Home is a smell - a stimulus of excitement. A scent of cinnamon and the cologne dad gave to mum as a present - or just your wooden wardrobe that made it into every new resting place. Fee-Gloria and Nils document the fact that home is not a set place. It is constantly shifting neighbourhoods or discovering different seas. Nomadic souls know this best. Souls that fade like a withered rose if they get stuck in the same pretty vase for too long. A nomad always has to be on the move. Always walking - always searching.
We like to start big: Who is Nils?
That's a good question. I was actually thinking about it the whole day, because I knew you would ask me this and it is not easy to define. I am a twenty-five year old guy who does a lot of things. On the one side I'm model. I've worked in the industry for some years now, but at the same time I study in Milan, Los Angeles and Tokyo to do my masters in marketing. I started working with some fashion brands a few years ago, and I work with social media, consulting and coaching brands. There is a lot going on, not this one thing where I would say: ‘That’s me.’ I really try to enjoy life, see a lot of the world and travel.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Germany, but then we always moved around. I lived in Italy, Paraguay, Argentina, Switzerland, Hong Kong and the US. When I was eighteen I came back to Germany and finished school, but when you are so used to move around it's getting hard to stay in one place. You basically want to continue on moving and travelling. I don’t really have a place that I call home. It is always the place where my parents live in that moment. That pushed me to the life I am living now. I was always on the move, used to see many things and get inspired.
That’s a lot moving. In how many countries did you live in?
Actually, I don’t know. I have lived in all five continents. I have to count... something like ten countries.
Oh, wow! What was your favourite country?
My longest stay was in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I lived there from the age of six until I turned eleven and it stuck with me. I really love the culture and I try to go back as often as I can. Of course, it is far away, but the culture, nature and the people are really nice. I don't really have a ‘favourite’ favourite place, because you always learn to find something in a place that you might like, because every place has it’s advantages.
What is it like to grow up in Buenos Aires?
It was really fun. You had to learn how to ride horses, because that is the normal thing to do there. I had a lot of riding lessons and we spent a lot of time on the countryside and on boats. Life there was easy. I wouldn’t have missed it, and I would also like my kids, if I ever have some, to have the same experience.
That sounds fun. Leave the car and take the horse...
Haha, yes, but it sounds more romantic than it is. You still use the car a lot, but people are more attached to nature and being outside. It’s really important to have a farm out of town - to invite friends over and spend the weekends there. That’s something I really like. You have bigger communities and people stick together. My friends from primary school still stick together, their friendship is more like family. I think something like that is rare to find in some other countries.
Have you ever felt lost, because of moving so often during your childhood?
I think there is a time, especially as a teenager, when you start to hate losing your friends. Then you feel alone. You might not like the new class and you don’t like your parents, but I learnt to make the best out of everything, finding things that stopped me from feeling lonely. There comes a point, when you get really used to making new friends and children get in touch sooner. You are never that lonely, because you are the new kid, and of course the new kid is always a bit obvious to recognize. You should always try to go for your hobbies, that’s something where I always met new people. Exercising, hiking and running. Just try some sports. And now, wherever I go, I always know somebody or friends of friends. It’s kind of a big community, so you never feel totally alone. You just settle into a new place. You also have to learn to be happy with just yourself, that’s a really important thing.
That’s interesting, because it can be quite hard to find a way to be alone or accept being in silence.
Yes, it’s not easy, but at some point you have to learn it. By now I travel a lot by myself and it’s nice, because you are open to new experiences and new things. You can be true to yourself, because you have no people around you who tell you how you have to be, based on how they know you from the past. You can always, not reinvent yourself, but optimize the person you want to be. No one will know the old you, so you learn to evolve your own character and be yourself. Otherwise, if you are living in the same place for eighteen years, visiting the same school, hanging out with the same people, you will always be remembered as the same guy you were at thirteen or fourteen. But no one knows me from that time. I am always a stranger, so it always counts who I am at the moment.
Can you always have a restart?
Yes, I mean I am always kind of the same, and obviously, if you always change your character you can really be true to yourself.
You said you travel a lot. Is that quite a big passion for you?
Of course, when I was a kid I was with my parents and I traveled with them, but when I was able to travel more by myself, I changed the way how I travel. I started with the basics, backpacking and exploring places. I was studiying in L.A. this summer, and I just decided to rent a pick-up truck to drive through the desert and spend the day somewhere hiking in the mountains.
What is the weirdest place you have ever been to?
The craziest thing I have ever done was when I was working for an agency and they sold a campaign to a client. The agency was supposed to send a photographer all around the world to shoot people working on their houses, but they didn't choose a photographer - they asked me to do it. Friday we pitched the project, on Wednesday I was getting a vaccination for Africa and on Friday I was on the plane. Within twenty days I was in I was in Ethiopia, Tanzania, Oman, India, Thailand, Panama, Uruguay and Peru, spending only 24 to 48 hours everywhere. It also taught me that sometimes you don’t need to stay in a place for a long time - 24 hours can be enough to get to know a country. I think this was by far my favourite travel experience. Maybe one time I can do that for my living. Travelling, moving and flying around. That was when I thought moving around as a kid was worth it.
Where are you living at the moment?
I lived the last year in Milan, then I went to the West Coast for two month during the summer and now I am living in Berlin. I have two weeks left before I will fly to Tokyo, to stay there the next five months.
What is great about living in Berlin?
Well ,for me it’s actually a place where I have a lot of friends. It feels a bit like home, because at the moment everybody ends up in Berlin. You just go down the street and see familiar faces.
That’s exciting, because I am going to Berlin in two months.
Yes, it’s kind of the playground for everybody at the moment. Everybody wants to spend time here, because it’s one of the easiest cities to live. It’s not really expensive and it doesn’t feel like Germany. In a good way.
You were talking about home. What does home mean for you?
It’s where my parents are. I don’t have any siblings, so my parents were always the biggest constant in my life. Wherever they live, it’s home... And some pieces of our furniture, too. There are pieces that made it to every house we rented. It sounds stupid, but it’s just a little detail. A certain smell you have at home. That feels like home.
Which meal feels like home?
Haha, there is no special meal, but everybody knows what I mean. Coming home to your parents and smelling a certain scent. The funny thing is, no matter where we lived in the world, we always had the same smell in the house. It's one of the reasons why I stopped getting attached to a house. It is just really about the people and how you put things in your house, how you put furniture in your house. That makes it feel like home.
You are 25 years old right now, so your adolescence is not so far behind you. How different is life in your twenties than it was in your teens?
I actually really like my twenties now, because you are free as a teen, but you are not that free to do whatever you want. It is a great age, if you use the opportunities you have. You can start to live your dreams and shape the life you want to have, because you are in charge of yourself.
Do you have a vision or picture in your head of your future life?
I don’t have a certain plan. I think it’s more just about continuing on how it is. Continue with everything that I am doing right now.
Are you happy right now?
Yes! I am really happy and I just want to continue. That’s the good thing about the twenties, you can continue things and they just go on. Work gets better, because you have experience and you might travel even more. Everything gets more interesting. Just grow with everything around you.
What else do you do to make yourself happy?
I always live in cities where a lot is going on, parties and stuff, but I really like to escape into nature. During fashion week, there were so many parties and people, so I really liked to go for one or two days to the Alps to sleep in a small hut with a friend, have a bonfire and cook a meal out in the mountains with no one around. It’s a contrast I really enjoy. Having the best of both worlds.
You mentioned that you like to have some time off to spend it in nature. What affect does social media have on you?
I use it, and as a model you are a bit supposed to use it. Also in my job, it’s kind of the daily business I am dealing with. I have to say I really enjoy it. I love to take pictures, and sometimes pictures are taken of me. Of course, it can be too much, but I think it is important to not only consume, but to create. I mean we have so many influences right now, great adventures waiting out there, and I think sometimes it is bad that people just follow something and don’t try it themselves.
Who is your biggest influence?
Of course my parents, because they have been around wherever I lived. At the same time it is a group of friends, people that live all over the world, with which I try to catch up whenever I have a chance. Some people are friends, others are some I met during modelling. I think it is a mix, a pool of people that have really different backgrounds, ages and experience. I don’t have a public figure. It is more about people. When you are working in this business you will see influencers, and if you know some of them privately, will see the difference between what they post and who they are. It isn’t the whole picture. It's important to know that things you see are just people selling dreams, not reality. Your influence should really be someone you know privately.
Do you think this whole social media thing is going into the right direction?
No, I think it is important for people to understand that it is not the whole truth. Now it is social media, but twenty years ago people were reading magazines, so I mean, it was kind of the same. People like actors in Hollywood, they never expose their whole private life. It is never the whole picture - more like a dream-world.
How do you experience that in the different countries you are visiting?
I mean, now in Italy it is really interesting how society works. People are warm and welcoming, and I really like this warm atmosphere. In Berlin, you can go to a bar and even the third time you will still be a stranger, because that’s just kind of how Germans deal with it. But if you go twice to the same bar in Milan everybody is already greeting you. They are really more personal.
Any country where you haven’t been but you wish you would go traveling to?
I always said I want to live in Tokyo once, it was always on my bucket list, and now I am super excited to spend some month over there.
That’s the place to go in Japan. It is one of the super developed places, even when old culture merges into the Western world. I can imagine it must feel like living on the moon or a different planet. I hope so. And I hope for different food, because the Japanese kitchen sounds really exciting.
Are you down for trying everything?
By now, I would say yes - I really want to try insects once. I remember, when I was in Vietnam, I was sitting in a restaurant and they had a big cage of frogs. There was like a small elevator, which took the cage with the living frogs upstairs into the kitchen, and when it came back downstairs the frogs were in a bowl with soya sauce and ginger. That was super crazy.
Do you have other things you are passionate about?
Photography is a really big thing, because I like to take pictures. I really enjoy that, but I also love cooking food. That’s why I really like Italy, they have so much nice stuff.
What does your perfect day look like?
It was the Italian cliché in Milan. You go early to the market and have an espresso, but I think one of the best days I ever had was in Palm Springs. I got a car, drove around and explored paths besides the road, which might lead you to the desert where you meet no one. And if you feel like stopping you can listen to some music, sit in the desert and wait for the sun to set. I went there alone and it was really good after all the weeks in L.A, with many people surrounding me. I just felt I should have some days by myself.
How about the opposite of the perfect day and a perfect sunset... do you ever cry?
That’s though; yes, I mean I would lie if I say I don’t cry. I don’t do it very often, but when you have a big fight or a break up… That are times when you cry. So yes, I cry sometimes.
What does your future look like?
I hope I will stop studying at a point, but then I don’t know. I really want to continue and at the moment I just don’t see myself doing a normal proper job in one company, as I am so used to do different things. I might like to professionalise my photography a bit and continue modelling, so I think it will always be this mixture.
What would be the worst nightmare of work you have to do?
It would be a really big company where everyone is wearing the same kind of suit. Having lunch always at the same time, finishing at the same time, apply for your holidays in the beginning of your year. That’s just so foreseeable, you know in the beginning how the year is going to end. You are just doing your shifts and waiting for weeks to go by - longing for the weekend to come.
Do you think that is changing, that people don’t continue one and the same job until the end?
I think it was always there. I have my friends who are working in big companies and other people who do their own things. It always just depends on what kind of person you are and if you want to take the risk. I always have the same thought; ‘Do you live to work, or do you work to live’. Every person decides that for themselves. Anything I did until now never felt like work to me. I never thought like; ‘oh, I have to work' or 'thank God it’s Friday.’
Do you have any wisdom to share at the end of this chat?
I think it's good to follow everything you want to do and don’t get distracted. Don’t get stuck into thinking that there is a certain rule on how to live your life. You just have to get attached to something you want to do. Of course, you have to work for your dreams, but there is always a way.There is no one stopping you from it.