Welcoming spring: walking around Brandenburg

The long-awaited longer days have come and I feel the awakening of my vital powers like all the flora and fauna around me. End of March is usually transformational for me, and looking back into my blog I can confirm this. After a week long overcast days, here comes the sun and people like me have the urge to go out, and be surrounded by nature.

Berlin has arguably impressive surroundings, I have to say. However, it’s one of the greenest and cleanest (in terms of air quality) metropolitan cities I know and if you love long walks around the forests, parks or countless lakes around the city, listening to the bird songs of the early spring days, hiking around the Berlin is one of the best ways to recharge on the weekend.

Thanks to my friend Aleksandra, I’ve joined a hiking meetup last month where like-minded nature and physical activity seeking folks pick a hiking trail and spend a day walking distances between 25-35 km on average. This time they’ve picked a lovely lake trail around Erkner, where some of the streets are even named as a ‘Way to Relax’ (Weg zur Erholung).

And it’s not only the fresh air coming out of the forest, lake or meadow that make these hikes special. These are the people you meet on the way: often coming from similarly creative and demanding roles, willing to spend some time off the computer screen and connect with others, look at something different than a concrete jungle, which after over a half a year of winter can take its toll.

I am grateful for the diversity of experiences I’ve had in this city so far. It’s been intense, it’s been lazy and I felt free to do whatever: be it dance the Sunday away in Berghain, to wake up and eat brunch when the sun sets, or be an early bird on the S-bahn to Erkner to take a scenic forest trail. And I’m ready for the spring to take over!

Advertisements

Frühlingsgefühle in Sächsische Schweiz

February is a strange month: it’s short and you never know what to expect from it weather-wise, so it’s better to focus on the relevant cultural happenings, such as Berlinale. This year I took a bet and stayed in the city, overbooking myself throughout the festival, but at the same time, the weather surprised me in a very positive way.

The days are definitely longer and there is more light everywhere – almost as if the springtime is ready to kick off. This reminds me of a remarkable weekend trip I took with my best friend Wero to Sächsische Schweiz two years ago around this time of the year.

Thanks to one of my colleagues, we knew where to focus on this short, 48 hours trip. We booked a little apartment to stay in Kurort Rathen, a picturesque, yet pretty touristy town. We were quite lucky to be there outside of the high season, as it was fairly quiet and not overtly crowded. The only issue WE had was the culinary diversity – almost everything available was pretty represented by particularly heavy, traditional food. It proved it served us well after a long and strenuous hike!

Upon our arrival, on a late Friday evening after work (it took us about 2,5 hours to travel from Berlin Hauptbahnhof to Dresden and further with a regional train), we had to cross the Elbe river with the ferry and we were literally the last passengers of the Fähre. Next day, from the very beginning we headed off to Lilienstein and Festung Königstein, wandering around meadows, woods and climbing up the typical rocky foundations in the region, which was pretty exciting. After having walked for over 20 kms of the steep terrain, we gladly ate a big Roulade mit Sauerkraut and not being used to such heavy food, fell asleep at 8 or 9 pm.

After a typical, German Sunday breakfast-feast at the hotel next door, we headed off to Bastei to explore a few hiking routes around this most emblematic ‘rock bridge’, often associated with Sächsische Schweiz. It seemed that there was a plenty of Sunday visitors from Dresden which came for a stroll as the weather was sunny and blissful. Still, the views were breathtaking. At the end of our trip we headed off to Bad Schandau, from where a train was taking us back to Berlin directly.

I wish I could repeat this trip and see more of the hiking routes, however, time flies and I actually never re-visited Saxony, instead I went to Harz, which I can definitely recommend for the nature-loving Berliners to visit over the weekend.

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!

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…