Winter wonderland

Some people go ice-skating to Berghain these days during CTM festival, some prefer to escape the centre to face the nature. The longer I live in Berlin, the more I admire how many species live in the city and how easy it is to spot within and outside of its vast borders.

I especially like escaping to the seaside, as Pablo Neruda said ‘I need the sea because it teaches me’. After leaving behind my flat at the beach in Barcelona almost five years ago, even living in the greenest place of Berlin can’t give me the same thrill of being connected to the natural wonders. It’s possible to visit a cold, beautiful beaches of Rügen or Polish side of Pomerania pretty easily though.

I do appreciate the winter breeze and fresh, cold air which you can experience not that far away from the city either. A train to the Baltic Sea coastline can take you there in approximately 3 hours, so it is truly feasible for a day trip.

What is great about sea in the winter is its remoteness, lower prices than usually during the high season, but also being able to spot unusual bird species that come down from the Arctic areas for the coldest months. So if you are lucky, you can bump into endangered species of ducks pretty much anywhere in the Northern coast nearby Berlin, including e.g. eiderdowns.

Seagulls squeaking, swans dancing, empty landscapes in the winter breeze can truly make the winters magic. This year everyone’s complaining about the particularly dark and grey light since four months already. From my experience I can recommend staying as much outside as possible, getting out from your winter sleep mode and you will see the world in a gradient ranging from other colours than shades of grey.

By the way, the day lasts almost 9 hours by today, yay!

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Weihnachten in Berlin

It’s been over 4 years of living in Berlin for me and I’ve managed to spend my first Christmas (and New Year’s) season here only for the first time. There are many reasons to it: the most trivial one being lazy, and hesitant to spend more time at the airports, paying for the overpriced tickets to only get away to more sunny, appealing side of the world. Secondly, it’s a brand new state of living together with my partner and actually caring for staying at home (!) with our family, and last but not least: experiencing the ‘abandoned’ city vibe, empty streets, peace and quiet at once. Yay!

First, I felt a bit panicky about the fact that for a few days there will be very little to do with our parents who have (thankfully!) seen Berlin-as-a-tourist-place already and in case we run out of food, there will be nowhere to go to eat out. We definitely didn’t feel like spending the whole time in the kitchen and running around with all the schlep related to it.

Fortunately, most of the Asian, Indian and Turkish places, including our favourite ones were open and running during the whole holiday season, and there were many patchwork-expat families like ours enjoying the atypical dining. For three days, we enjoyed not only cooking at home, but also relaxing from the end-of-year hustle.

Another highlight, recommended by a colleague was the special Großes Berliner Weihnachtskonzert at the Konzerthaus am Gendarmenmarkt. On the 25th, we attended a concert of Anhaltische Philharmonie Dessau who performed ”Der Freischütz” overture of Weber, Mendelsohn-Bartholdy’s concert for violin and orchestra e-moll and Smetana’s pieces from ‘My Fatherland’.

With this I could definitely recommend staying in Berlin during winter holidays, slowing down, bonding with your family and friends, especially if you have some expat ones, who are missing their nearest and dearest, and often also the sun and human warmth.

Richtung Süd: Web Summit 2018, LX

You know my other (blog) half already, and therefore you probably know the other part of my mind, which lives somewhere in the Southern sphere without moving from Berlin. Or at least escaping a few times per year to where it belongs.

This month I travelled to Lisbon aka LX again, partly for business and to connect with new people, partly for being with my best friends and to reconnect with them. The business part of the trip was due to the annual edition of the Web Summit – my first experience at the conference thus far. I expected big hype and crowds, but what I saw was really intimidating in numbers (not only to me), especially in a city that is one of the tiniest European capitals: almost 70000 participants!

The less intimidating, and rather promising one, was the ratio of women attending the event: 43%. It was not only visible in the crowd, but also in the networking focus and number of female speakers and panelists, as well as politicians attending, giving a good role model aspect to the aspiring professionals in various roles in tech.

The number of talks and its focus varied and was obviously impossible to track everything. Some of them stating the obvious, some of them: mind-boggling. I felt a lot of the questions I have for various branches in tech were not necessarily answered but at least well posed. It’s good not to feel alone, but less assuring to see same question marks and not too strong answers on how to move forward. Same comes for democracy, privacy and generally: staying human in technocratic world, while taking the best out of it.

I feel that getting to know inspirational entrepreneurs, mostly women, sharing experiences and ideas, looking for this positive needle in the stack, was my highlight of the event. I left with a few new ideas on my mind, good feedback and hope for the tech industry.

Last but not least, contemplating ocean waves from the Westernmost continental part of Europe was a bliss like always. Sharing this time with my best friend and great business mind in one person, and gave me a lot of hopes for women and for tech, together.

Richtung West: Herbst in Westphalia

The month of October marks my Berlinversary – this year it’s been exactly four years since I relocated from Barcelona and started a new life. One year ago my friend Aleksandra, with whom I shared a lot of important moments in the Barcelona chapter has relocated to Germany too. She’s now living in Hessen, not too far away from Frankfurt and we try to find a way of seeing each other regularly, and at the same time discovering our new country of residence together.

This time we decided to travel to Westphalia, namely Köln and Bonn for a weekend getaway.

Köln was our main location where we aimed to discover the city life during the evenings. We kicked off our brief sightseeing from the picturesque Old Town and Rheinterassen, encouraged and discouraged at the same time by my German friends. They told me these are fun places to be, unless it gets very crowded, touristy and bachelor party-like. Which was the case of the Friday night and we picked a nice Iranian restaurant to simply catch up after months of not seeing each other.

I visited Köln years ago, on my way to Lisbon by train and not surprisingly, I mostly remembered a magnificent Cathedral visible long before you arrive to the main station.

Since Köln is so easily connected with the rest of the cities in Westphalia, we used regional and S-bahn service to discover Bonn, and eventually Düsseldorf window-watching Rhein banks and leaving city panoramas behind.

We spent almost whole Saturday in the sun walking around Bonn’s river bank, and tasting various Grauburgunder type of wines – it was a perfect match for the weather and for the companionship. Since Bonn is an interesting city from historical, administrative and architectural perspective, after visiting a cute Old Town and Beethoven’s house, we decided to focus our sightseeing around the Museumsmeile – ‘a mile of museums’, including those dedicated to modern art, German history and arithmetic.

Museum der Geschischte is an accessible museum documenting the history of GDR and FDR (aka West Germany) while walking from the basement towards the upper part of the building, seeing the stories from both sides of the wall in parallel.

It’s definitely a place worth visiting to learn that actually, there were a lot of similarities on both sides, regardless of the wall and propaganda separating the country artificially. Ending up with an installation about the recent refugee crisis in Europe, one may think about how divisions are simply some powerful ways of manipulating the population.

After visiting Köln and Bonn, I convinced Aleksandra to spend the whole Sunday in Düsseldorf, another interesting city of business, art and architectural importance.

On our way to K20 and K21 – modern museums of Düsseldorf, we passed an interesting Japanese district, due to the presence of the consulate and thousands of residence of this origin, which brought my thoughts back to Tokyo.

Elegant and minimalist architecture is a landmark of the city, and that makes it utterly photogenic one, especially caught in the lense of Aleksandra’s phone.

We were very happy to see a lot of green spaces with flock of birds, namely Canada geese, as we’re both animal lovers and I’m particularly a bird watcher every now and then.

Last but not least, city landscape did not disappoint us when it comes to the ever-present modern, quirky art, even though the soul of the city seems definitely opposite to ‘poor but sexy’ Berlin, showing off often as posh/BCBG.

To finish off, this was a very compact weekend, though at the same time we discovered all of the three cities at our own pace, with necessary breaks to indulge in the vegan restaurant options, which was not problematic nor costly (ask me for a breakfast buffer menu of 5 EUR if you’re interested). Autumn (ger. Herbst) remains my favourite season to discover this country, and it doesn’t necessarily mean going all crazy at Oktoberfest!

Richtung Ost: Suwalszczyzna & Podlasie

I enjoy building small repositories for my foreign friends about my country of origin, and the nearest bordering country to Berlin at the same time: Poland. So far, I’ve mentioned bits and pieces about the city I was born and grown up: Poznan, the capital: Warsaw and the North-Western coast altogether with the city of Szczecin.

This time I’d like to focus on the North-Easternmost region of Poland: Suwalszczyzna and Podlasie, which is the home region of my boyfriend and thanks to whom I managed to discover this beautiful remote landscape this summer.

It takes between 13-18 hours altogether to reach Suwalki, the capital town of the region by train or bus from Berlin, so it made sense to visit our friends and family in Poznan and Warsaw on the way, especially that the summer was extremely hot this year and the journey was tedious. Then, the train took us to Bialystok, the capital of Podlasie, and all the way up to Suwalki, surpassing one of the largest woods in Poland and making way to the region of countless lakes.

It was my second time in Suwalki, since I’ve visited it on my way to Lithuania when I was a teenager. It’s actually quite close to the Russian, Lithuanian and Belarusian border, which naturally brings various culinary, linguistic and architectural influences to this region, including having banyas for the long and cold winters. Actually, Suwalki is considered the most remote and cold city of Poland. The weather forecast always places it as the frozen North Pole of Poland, and during winter it’s not uncommon to have the temperature drop to -25 or -30 Celcius degrees.

This is probably why the current tagline of the city is ‘Pogodne Suwalki’ which can be loosely transalted to ‘cheerful’ or ‘sunny’ at the same time. I could experience that for real. We were discovering the city on bikes thanks to the currently expanding infrastructure. It’s not entirely possible to visit all the surrounding lakes by this means of transportation yet, but it’s a great leap forward for the region to preserve the nature.

We were also very lucky to participate in the jazz concert from the series of the local cultural society SOK. We watched a jazz recital by the Silesian pianist Krzysztof Kobylinski, a founder of the Silesian Cultural Centre Jazovia where he invested most of his earnings from his previous life as a business man.

During the remaining days we were mostly day drinking, daydreaming, eating out at local Tatar vegetarian (yes!) bistrot, and birdwatching. The silence of the woods and the lakes made us spot such rare species as Osprey Eagle. My boyfriend could not believe such species exist, i.e. eagles that hunt fish from the lakes. And now while I write this blog post, he’s binge watching the osprey channel on YouTube.

On the way back to Warsaw we have stopped by Bialystok, the largest city in the Eastern part of Poland, the capital of Podlasie. Contrary to its current fame of being the most right-wing city, and that it’s not very welcoming to strangers, in the past it was one of the most multicultural cities of Poland, bringing together Jewish, Tatars, Orthodox and Catholics. Even its city hall is grinning all the time, despite the controversy.

Bialystok has as well a very impressive Branicki palace complex and a cosmic-shaped opera house. Speaking of birds again, we wanted to visit Silvarium – a unique, forest-based shelter for wild animals that need rehabilitation but we did not manage to find time this year.

Altogether, it was a great insight to the remote part of Poland which is a secret well-kept, so if you ever explore these natural wonders, do it with consideration, which is my usual ask for the places I write about. Even though, as the last rumour I’ve heard, the airport is built in Suwalki, and the remoteness of the place might be gone soon…

 

Harz – for life, and for a weekend too!

Last month I decided for a very spontaneous weekend getaway with my boyfriend. It was very close to our unofficial anniversary and his birthday anyway so I thought about planning a short & sweet trip for us. Since I’m definitely the more wanderlust-craving spirit in our constellation, I simply thought about the location we’d both enjoy and told him in advance of one week or so not to book anything for that weekend.

With a Schönes-Wochenende-Ticket in hand we met at Alexanderplatz and after 2,5 hours and changing trains twice (he really couldn’t tell where is our final destination and hence the suprise was even better) we arrived in Wernigerode. It’s a lovely town on a former Eastern German border of the Harz mountains region,just below the highest mountain: Brocken, and a house of a renowned technical university.

While Berlin is NOT Germany in most of ways, the heart of Germany (and Harz region is located in the middle of the country) definitely is. We could finally practice our German almost everywhere, as English was scarcely in use.

Wernigerode offers a glimpse into a typical Prussian-style architecture, has a cute old market square with tiny owl-shaped bells ringing a melody every hour, a magnificent Schloss (German castle) and a lot of green spaces.

One can spot some peculiarities like teeth in a garden and enjoy a delicious local cuisine. Thanks to my colleague’s recommendation we had a chance to try ZeitWerk – creative & purist menu awarded by a Michelin star in 2018. Forget about the heaviness of the German dishes and try the seasonal dishes – most of them being vegetarian or if needed, offering vegetarian option menu, not always common for the star restaurants.

We also had great fun traveling on a steam train from the early 1900s all the way up to the Brocken top. It stops in various locations where one can either hike around the rocky formations or enjoy a number of Biergarten spots. The only hassle with it is the all-time present steam which is actually bringing us back in time, where industrial pollution was a part of the landscape. Now, we can observe how heavily polluted the local forest and the area around the station is. Maybe some eco-version of the same will come up soon.

So within a 2,5 hours reach from Berlin, we ended up in a very different landscape, culture and although short, we could taste the little getaway outside of Berlin. This year I aim to visit more German cities, but also parks, mountains and wildlife.

 

Birds of Berlin

Spring/summer feeling in Berlin has been very special this year. After a very cold winter, it’s been mostly sunny and balmy since April and the perceived quality of life brought smile to even the most gloomy Berliners. Even though I could not make the most of it this year’s outdoor activities such as dancing in the open airs, biking to the lakes, as I was injured for a few weeks, I decided not to FOMO about it.

Trying to find a bright side of this situation, staying at home or in the nearby parks, it helped me appreciate the nature in the city. The sheer abundance of bird songs sparked my curiosity in search of who stays behind their beautiful voices.

Unfortunately (or fortunately to the birds themselves), they hide very well deep in the trees and bushes that has also grown wildly during the past weeks, turning Berlin into a green city jungle. I was lucky enough to portrait some of the (un)usual neighbours in the city though. You can have a look at some better or worse attempts of capturing their presence below.

The biggest and the most colourful pigeon in town, love it or hate it: a ringdove (die Ringeltaube):

The true hunter-gatherer of the city, always hungry sparrow (der Spatz):

Monogamous mandarin ducks (die Mandarinente):

Heroic heron in the park (der Reiher):

A sullen swan in Strausberg (der Schwan):

Inspired by Birdhain, I even tried to welcome the birdy neighbours in those little huts. It proved that it only attracted ringdoves, which couldn’t obviously get in to this club due to their size, and frustrated enough, destroyed them. Or at least this is the version of the story I made up for the sake of this blog post. Didn’t caught any of them red handed.

My passion for birds emerged in my childhood when I tried to pursue a scientific dream of becoming an ornitologist. Funnily enough, when I started sharing my quirky passion with friends, it proved that I am not alone. One of my best friends, Krajonek, has even started a literary blog (you can only witness the wittiness of it in Polish only though) a while ago. Not only he writes amazing stories and research on the bird population in Greater Poland, but is a talented photographer too.

And even when the winter comes, Berlin is not empty – there are thousands of birds from the Northern Europe awaiting the springtime here, not only at the city murals. Additionally, there’s a plenty of literature on birds for long winter evenings I can honestly recommend, including Noah Strycker’s ‘The Thing with Feathers’, Bernd Heinrich’s ‘The Mind of the Crow’ or chapters from Peter Wohlleben’s ‘Spiritual Life of Animals’.

There is one more project I wanted to mention, as I recently backed it up on Kickstarter and could see it growing from scratch: a global sound installation called Birdhouse, check this out!