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…

 

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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!

Notes from the Berliner Philharmoniker

Since a good couple of weeks, Berlin is bathing in the sun and even though the summer has not even started, people in the city seem to indulge themselves in the warm nights, long days and refreshing water of the surrounding lakes. I am touring as well: I have just returned from a couple of weeks spent in Barcelona and Galicia, where I spoke at a conference and this week I’m heavily involved in the hackdays happening at my company, as well as participating at Tech Open Air – giving some talks in the forthcoming weeks. Thus, with so much happiness and excitement outside, it’s not a perfect season for writing these days. Well, there’s no such things as a perfect setting for writing anyway, so why not just scribble a few notes.

Upon my arrival from travels, I was expecting a great cultural thrill though: seeing Max Richter performing in the magnificent Berliner Philharmoniker. Booking tickets 6 months in advance is a reality if you want to participate, so I was anxiously looking forward to it. After all, I missed the famous performance of the ‘Sleep’ at Kraftwerk two years ago.

Richter performed ‘Infra’ and ‘Blue Notebooks’ this time, inspired by Schumann’s Winterreise and political happenings at the times he wrote these pieces. It sounded very profoundly, illustrated by the special lighting and the venue itself. I’ve been to the Philharmonic several times. Once, me and my friend missed an opening in the neighbouring gallery and simply bought the tickets from a nice elderly couple that were cold and thought inappropriate to participate in a concert coughing.

What is special about this place is not only the architecture, but its philosophy of accessibility, so far away from monumental and baroque design of Philharmonic, that often happens elsewhere. I am proud that I live in the city where art, culture and social participation matters so much. Berlin might be changing, even in these four years I’ve been living here, but its connection to art is special and making other live choices of leaving the city at some point so difficult. Even though my relationship with German language is still far from perfect and I am truly a ‘new Berliner’, I’ve managed to see a lot and try to understand the city much as I can, also through participation.

I love the egalitarian spirit of Berlin. In the warm summer night, I saw a very diverse crowd at the Philharmonic, connected together. Hope that this spirit prevails the hype, raising inequalities and general craziness on various levels.

Balkan Hot Step

It took me a very long time to put together my impressions from various travels around Balkans. The diversity, and the amount of beautiful pictures I took was simply overwhelming and I couldn’t really decide should I be crafting a single blog entry or multiple ones.

Truth is, it’s been over a year ago since my last visit to Croatian Zadar, Nin, Plitvice Lakes and Ugljan island and I am officially ashamed of procrastinating publishing these gems.

To start off with, visiting Zadar in April 2017 was a great idea, since the springtime in Berlin didn’t really kick in, and the amount of sun, friendliness and music coming from the famous Sea Organs were literally a bliss to me, after a few intense weeks and healing after some operations I had to take last year.

I decided to take a day trip to Plitvice National Park, where the spring was only blossoming, as it is located further up in the mountains. It was still not so crowded, so I could enjoy myself visiting at my own pace, not worrying about the massive groups stepping on my shoes.

I can imagine though that Croatia, being one of the most popular tourist locations, attracts thousands of visitors to their national parks during the high season. To avoid getting too much crowds, there is a daily limit of entrance, which seems a valid thing to do to protect this stunning nature.

Some other sites around Zadar’s area I’ve visited include the picturesque town of Nin and nearby island Ugljan, where you can explore various hiking trails and peace of mind. I didn’t manage to visit the islands of Kornati where thousands of bird species are nesting, due to the lack of ferry service around the lower season.

Looking back to 2016, I spent over a week in between Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro, as I was invited to speak at a conference in Dubrovnik.

I was amazed by a daily trip to Mostar in Herzegovina region, where the cultures truly melt, and years after the war, the city is shining. Driving through the country, the signs of the painful times remained, making me wonder how come such terror could have happened in this beautiful land.

Dubrovnik itself is a special city. Located in a land strip between Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro, is typically more expensive than the rest of Croatia, but is a gem nevertheless. Old town, villas, riveras and wonderful neighbourhoods are spread around the hills and various bays.

I also took an opportunity to visit the Kotor Bay in Montenegro, which stole my heart, especially taking a boat trip to a monastery located in the middle of the bay, and exploring the sleepy and not so crowded town of Kotor.

Even though Montenegro is not a part of EU, due to an economic post-war treaty, it is possible to pay in Euro currency.

Taking time to drive around these three countries was a great experience, as I wanted to learn much as I could about various cultures, religions, conflicts and its resolutions alongside the history.

Last but not least, I explored the area of Split, where my flight was originating from and I had a great time both in the city and on the surrounding islands of Hvar and Bol.

Split is a lively port connecting Croatia and Italy, and Dalmatian history is very well preserved there. Besides the old town rich in historic monuments, there’s a lot of city beaches and relaxing spots.

It is very easy to travel from Split for a day trip and hike around the magical islands, like Hvar and Bol, with its turquoise waters and golden sands, some of them rated as a top sites according to the beachtesters.

Since Croatia has over thousands of islands to visit, I don’t think this is the last time I’ll be exploring that place and can’t wait to be back in the warmth of these regions. I still would love to visit the inland part and countries of Serbia and Macedonia, but sooner or later I know I will, especially knowing I have some great friends coming from these places. Hvala!

Dessau (not) depressau

Before the spring came to Berlin with its continuously perfect sunny weather, I was craving for a short and inspiring getaway. For years, I’ve been interested in visiting Dessau, a capital of Bauhaus with its university centre and original settlements created in between 20th century’s 20s and 30s. As my trip in February got cancelled, I spontaneously decided to travel on my own to spend a day off in Dessau and its museums.

 

The University centre and museum offers a thorough experience and journey through Bauhaus history, life of the Directors and ideas that came into live during the period it was settled in Dessau. Currently, talented designers ranging from conceptual to interactive disciplines are studying there and further bring inspiring ideas to live. I was very happy to see one of my friends from Brasilia pictured in the graduates hall, as she’s moved to Germany to pursue her design career.

 

What I found especially interesting is how Bauhaus influenced the further development of the city, even after WWII. One of the highlights and recommendations for visiting would be a stay overnight in one of the original Bauhaus houses of the Directors! It’s available throughout the year, but I’d definitely recommend visiting Dessau on a sunnier day, due to the variety of parks, bike paths and its surroundings.

 

I am naturally curious person and I don’t necessarily discover only the classically beautiful sites of the world. After my visit in Eisenhütenstadt or Rügen, I strive for getting a better understanding of a complex history of Germany. Often, you find the most interesting stories in places which seem depressing, gloomy or unwelcoming at a first glance. Still, what you learn from its history, art, architecture and often industry, is priceless.

Before visiting Dessau, many people warned me it can be truly ‘Depressau’ especially on a winter day. I did not find it depressing at all, rather refreshing, after long winter in a dark, big, yet super intense city as Berlin. A short getaway (less than 2 hours on a train) can boost one’s creativity more than long hours inside your den, and even though I spent just a couple of hours in Dessau, I’m tempted to come back in 2019, for the 100 years of Bauhaus anniversary.

Piano Salon Christophori

Long live the Piano! Salon Christophori takes this very seriously. Last month I had a chance to finally visit this magic place, to hear Paulo Bonomini on cello and Maria Yulin on piano performing Debussy’s Nocturne & Scherzo L.26 and Sonata for Cello and Piano L.144; Ravel’s Sonate Posthume and Rachmaninov’s Sonata for Cello and Piano, op. 19.

 

Located in the area near Uferstudios and Café Pförtner, Piano Salon Christophori takes care of the old pianos in terms of renovating them, and hosts almost daily concerts with a broad range of classical repertoire.

Since years, it’s organically attracted music lovers and I didn’t have much luck in the past booking my spot in this intimate concert hall. This month, one of the dark, cold and still freezing days I decided that the venue would be perfect to spend one of my weekday evenings enjoying the music. Upon the arrival, I had a seat waiting for me with my name and surname printed, in this very charming, DYI setting. In price of 25 EUR (back in a day it used to a ‘donate or pay-as-you-wish’ model) you not only get to listen to brilliant repertoire, but also taste wine and soft drinks during intermission.

The atmosphere of this Wedding-based venue is truly magical and I already decided to return with a group of friends, to wind down and immerse into sound, awaiting for the spring to really kick off in Berlin this year.