Silicon Wadi vs. Silicon Allee

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Last week I returned from the conference Casual Connect which took place in the bustling city of Tel-Aviv. This is why I would like to share my impressions on its mobile start up scene and its day/night (or rather 24/7) lifestyle, which resonates so well with the Berlin state of mind.

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Tel-Aviv has no ancient history comparing to other places in Israel (except from the Old Town in Jaffa), and its architecture has been mostly inspired by modern creators, hence if you love Bauhaus – it is your dreamed destination.

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Tel-Aviv is weird and fascinating at the same time. It’s small enough to walk everywhere. Maybe that’s why the underground nor tram connection has not yet been built?

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It is indeed full of life, and full of one-of-its-kind districts: just like Berlin! (Or Barcelona. Or any emblematic city).

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I deliberately stayed in the left-wing, sort of dodgy area in between Florentine and Neve Tzedek (the oldest Jewish settlement in this area). While during the day I was hanging around the posh centre, where the conference took place.

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I met a lot of developers and designers who were very familiar with Berlin – and many of them expressed openly the will of relocating. Why would you do so if you live in the Mediterranean metropoly offering awesome quality of life, and most importantly: pleasant climate? Well, the answer is not that direct.

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Although Tel-Aviv has traditionally stayed untouched from the Middle East conflict, the tension has grown again during the past few weeks. Another reason is that for young talents it is not so easy to afford the living in Tel-Aviv. Prices are twice as higher as in, for instance, Berlin if you take rent, or eating out into account. The region offers though certain priviledges for the start up entrepreneurs, and recently set up its visa-waiver programme for acquiring foreign empoyees, especially in tech.

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As for the quality of life, and food especially, my life is no longer the same after visiting Israel. Fortunately, nearby my office in Berlin I can regularly eat out (cheaper!) traditional Israeli menu, but it is not the same under the grey, autumn skies. And me, having lived some 4 years in Barcelona, I’m a sucker for the sun!

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All in all, I was enchanted by the spontaneity of the night life and art scene. It felt like going around Potsdamer Platz in the times of first Tresor, which is a great metaphore for the hidden treasures.

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I am pretty sure it would require at least one more visit in Tel-Aviv to describe the whole picture and variety of it, this time I would only say that there is definitely one similarity among the start up hubs: the neverstopping buzz!

Jüdisches Museum Berlin

Long time, no write – I had a particularly intense month of October: visiting relatives in Bavaria, which was followed by unusually hectic days at work, and last but not least: a visit in Israel which leads me to the topic of describing the Jewish Museum of Berlin.

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The museum is situated in between Mitte and Kreuzberg, and I remember it was one of the first museums I visited since relocating to Berlin. You just can’t miss it for its stunning architecture. But also, for unforgettable experience and a journey through the lives of Jews in Germany in almost 2000 years of perspective, similarly to the Polin Museum in Warsaw.

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Jewish Museum of Berlin (JMB) consists of two buildings: Kollegienhaus and the new building designed by Daniel Libeskind, a Polish-American architect representing neo/post/modernism style. Libeskind’s building has different axes representing various epoques, and crucial moments for the Jewish diaspora in Germany. However, the most emotional and symbolic parts of the museum are represented by the void, a metaphore of the missing presence, as well as the sculptures of the Shalechet representing the screaming faces that can’t be avoided by the visitor.

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Beyond the buildings, there is also a Garden of Exile where the olive trees grow on the soil of Israel, representing hope, but also confusing concrete blocks that are depicting the disorientation of the emigrants in the distant countries all over the world.

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Nowadays, there are many events organized by the JMB, such as screenings of the movies, lectures, and temporary exhibitions. If you are in Berlin in November 2015, don’t miss Gehorsam (eng. Obedience) installation by Saskia Boddeke and Peter Greenaway.

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There are 15 rooms inspired by the legends of Jewish, Christian and Islamic traditions and the drama of our times due to the conflicts of the above. All in all, JMB is a very special place to contemplate not only the history, but also stunning art, emotional states and metaphoric narration.

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Longyearbyen: where Santa Claus lives in the mine

My last but not least entry about the Arctic trip I made in August this year will be about a very special, and the most Northernmost inhabited town in the world: Longyearbyen. Getting this crazily far North is currently easier than expected, with regular flight connections to Oslo, so it took me about 6 hours to travel there from Berlin. To compare: I would need to spend similar amount of time to get to Warsaw

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Longyearbyen, contrary to other settlements on Svalbard, such as Pyramiden, is pretty ‘busy’ or ‘crowded’ as for the Arctic standards. Apart from the travellers, Longyearbyen is a very multicultural town where over 40 nationalities work in the research centres, at the University and in tourism. It is fairly easy to meet ‘locals’ and listen to their interesting and odd-ball life stories, as one thing is for sure: Longyearbyen attracts strong personalities.

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There is one more very special person living in Longyearbyen: Santa Claus! Forget Finland, the real, hardcore Santa lives far more North than Rovaniemi, and according to the locals, has chosen an abandoned mine as his directory. As the photos above are taken during Arctic summer (when sun never sets), it is hard to imagine the Mine 2b (official name) to be Santa Claus’ house. In the wintertime, however, it is decorated with colourful lightbulbs by local enthusiasts. I have to say, Santa needs to be really hardcore, as the mountain ranges on Svalbard are very steep! And slippery, as you can see below, on the Lars’ Glacier, surrounding town.

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Lazy people built a facility though which enables reaching Santa Claus’ order list with no necessity to climb over 600 mts in the wintertime. Locals are not too happy about it though, thinking the huge red postbox is a bit of an overkill. Why not reaching Santa the same old way in the lovely and romantic Mine 2b?

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So not only Longyearbyen is a city of Santa, but also of science and art. And it is the only place where you can walk safely without a riffle. Polar bears don’t like this town and are only an inspiration for the artists. It is very likely that e.g. the bear above, or some stuffed ones in the shopping centre or in church (!) will be the only ones one will meet.

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Don’t worry about leaving the safe zone without noticing. The governor of Svalbard took care of making people aware where the necessary protection should be considered. Also, finding remnants of other animals, like reindeers might be a good sign of the polar bear’s presence.

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Other practical information for those planning the trip: although Longyearbyen was one of the first spots on Earth with the best bandwidth Internet connection, very few places offer free WiFi where you can send an e-mail to your dearest concerned about if you are still alive, or already being digested by a polar bear. As this is an impression you can get before travelling to Svalbard, in reality: being precautious is a good thing, but let’s not forget that polar bears are still quite an endangered species!. So the places which offer 24/7 free WiFi and cosy shelter are e.g. the local church and pub Karlsberger, listed as the 6th best pub in the world. Up to you where it feels better (make sure though to try at least once the very local brewed beer of Svalbard!). Alcohol is much cheaper than in mainland Norway, given the duty free zone of Svalbard, but tourists have consumption limits for beer, vodka and liquors. Wine and champagne may be consumed with no limits though (?!).

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Last but not least: Longyearbyen is home for many bird species. As mid-August is already late for them, I was not lucky to spot all sorts of geese or elder ducks whose presence and nesting ground is also clearly marked, but it is good to know that they still like it there. To put my almost week-long experience on Svalbard, I was so enchanted, that re-visiting this part of the world is a question of time. As the local newspaper is issued once in two years, the goal is to get there before the next one will be out.

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