Beyond 79° latitude: Pyramiden

Pyramiden or Piramida (Пирамида in Russian) was one of the most beautiful abandoned places I’ve visited while exploring the Arctic Island of Svalbard. To get there you need to sail for a few hours from Longyearbyen, the administrative capital and the most populous town on Spitzbergen, the biggest island of the Svalbard archipelago.

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Sailing up to 79th latitude offers spectacular views, such as Arctic skyline, fiords and mountain ranges.

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Neighbouring with Pyramiden is the Nordenskiöld glacier, and its majesty can be seen from all over the town.

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Back in a day, Pyramiden was a soviet mining settlement which was inhabited by roughly 2000 people. After 1997, when the bancrupcy of the coal company led to evacuating the entire population, it became a ghost town. For many years no foot was set there, and currently there are only a few people living in Pyramiden, taking care of the remnant buildings in the town.

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There is no mobile, nor Internet connection, but yes, indeed, there are polar bears in the settlement. I have not met any, but heard from the guide that there was one approaching, so he had to walk vigilant with his riffle loaded.

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Pyramiden is very green in the Arctic summer. Even the grass greener on the Pyramiden side! Wait: grass in Arctic? Well, not naturally. In the past, Soviets tried to bring as much normality to this Artctic town, as possible. Importing food and grocery was very expensive, so they brought fertile soil from Crimea region and tried to grow veggies at the 79° latitude. As we can see years after, the experiment was not entirely absurd.

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And Lenin is still there, watching the magnificent glacier and brutalist architecture. Once hosting workers’ families and offering all sort of facilities: gym, school and kindergarten, now Pyramiden’s blocks are home to countless Arctic birds.

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Sasha, the legendary guide and one of the few long-term inhabitants of Pyramiden. And tulips, which may still remember some wild parties on the International Women’s Day…

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If you are visiting Pyramiden with Sasha or Pavel (the other guide who joined the town this year), you will be able to enter to cantine or culture house where the facilities and art was left untouched since the last inhabitants left.

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You can even play football, contemplate in the library…

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…or play balalajka and read through some important posters from the 70s & 80s.

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There is also a small museum presenting emblematic animal life of Svalbard. Unfortunately, many animals were torn apart by a polar bear who sneaked into the museum once in search of food, or companions.

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I wish I could stay longer in this magic place. After a few hours, I had to return to Longyearbyen with the MS Polargirl ship. On the way back I passed along the glacier, observing seagulls, fulmars and Pyramiden in the sunshine. Cause in early August sun never sets on Svalbard.

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Cheerful weekend on the Green Island

Fully conscious that lately I actually spend more time outside of Berlin, this must reflect the content of the blog. The fact is that even though German capital still lacks a proper international airport, it is fairly easy to pick any European destination and be there within less than 2 hours. So, the last weekend I’ve visited my friend in Dublin and got a bit of the Irish taste! See some of my Dubliner impressions below:‘Famine’ – set of sculptures situated on the Liffey River bank, commemorating the tragedy of Irish people early in the 20th century.
You like them or not, seagulls seem to rule the city. And seem to be proud of it.Where different cultures & styles melt.
And the legendary Molly Malone meets the modern-day (?) musicians.Where parks are, on average, located within 300-400 m reach. Wherever you are.
Where the modern meets the mighty Nature – here’s the Energy Theatre.And you’re always so close to the sea.
Or romantic canal docks anyway. Seagulls again.Where the postindustial architecture meets water, steel and glass.
Or again: the Green.Where even the National Music Hall is green.
And the whole city is so colourful at night – as if it wanted to draw the usual, grey sky away.
Where you can hike safely on the cliffs just within 20 minutes reach from the city centre.A weekend deal is perfect to visit Dublin and surroundings, you’d need much more time to explore the whole country though. Having visited many Nordic and British cities, I have to say that Dublin – with its variety of great bars, restaurants within the walking distance and, most importantly, friendly people, is a definitely a must-go on the to-do list. And then again, it is always great to be back in Berlin!

Berlin-Warszawa-Express

I haven’t been to Warsaw in years, and heard from various trusted sources how interesting, fresh and inspiring it’s gotten since then. Also, it’s been spoken around Berlin a lot that is is a new place to be. I treated it with a grain of salt, as usual when one reads such revelations, but nevertheless – I wanted to spend a weekend with friends and family that live there.
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Starting from the history: there is probably no other city that has been treated so cruelly, yet got rebuilt and reinvented itself like the Phoenix from ashes, literally. Then during the Iron Curtain time it was always considered poor but sexy, just as Berlin was (is?). Yet after 25 years of the democratic times in Poland, it simply flourishes, connecting the importance of its history with the outlook for the future.
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Familiar emblematic buildings meet the skyscrapers, brutalist architecture meet steel-and-glass-era. So much diversity in the country which still considers itself pretty homogenous. Fortunately, it seems to be changing.
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I didn’t have much time to explore the new museums, such as Copernicus Science Centre, Museum of Modern Art or Polin – Museum of the History of Polish Jews. I have chosen Polin given my forthcoming trip to Israel and curiosity of comparing it with the Jewish Museum in Berlin I lately visited. I was amazed by the amount of comprehensive and equally interesting expositions showing the 1000 years’ history of Jews in Poland. For those who want to learn more about the complex relationship and great cultural influence, it is a must.
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Last but not least, I had a very relaxing stroll by the Vistula river, where nowadays there are colourful fountains, boulevars and plenty of beach bars (and city beaches anyway). A weekend getaway to Warsaw from Berlin is a pretty feasible option, with a journey taking cca. 5 hours. There are 4 trains leaving daily, let alone flights, buses and car sharing options at a very affordable prices. One weekend is definitely not enough to get a full taste of the Polish capital, but definitely sufficient to get inspired.