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.

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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!

Behind the wall, there is sun

While writing this entry, I am on a train to Berlin, coming back from a winter holiday loop including staying in Eilat / Tel-Aviv and Poznań during the past 10 days. It is a sunny and unexpectedly warm last day of this year and I feel very positive about the future outlook, as I am finally well-rested and I catch the last rays of sun. I needed this as 2017 was yet another year of BLAST. Work, travel and life experience-wise.

Comparing to last year, where I visited 13 countries in 12 months, this year the quantity was lesser (!), but quality-wise, I discovered my own private paradises and revisited friends all over the place. To name 12 countries I’ve visited in the past 12 months, I will recall them in the chronological order : Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan (where I said hello to 2017), Spain, Poland, UK, Croatia, Denmark (and Faroe Islands to be precise), Italy (more than 3 times, lucky me!), Portugal (and Azores to be precise again when it comes to autonomies!), France and eventually: Israel. I still fail to write up about my own thoughts on time while traveling in time. Similarly to Paul Theroux, I do believe that travels create a necessary headspace to find both distance and perspective to our own daily experiences. Like meditation, in parallel to focusing on the new stimuli during travels, I often let the recurring thoughts ebb, flow and process them accordingly,

Work-wise, it’s been probably the most intense, yet inspiring year full of learnings. I’m proud of the teams I’ve worked with and about my own achievements, to put it vaguely. I’ve written more about the changes earlier this year, and I’ve also managed to find the situations I thrive in as well as where I should develop more. I still fail to remain a completely healthy work-life balance and tend to get overtly excited /upset about things, engaging myself in and burning out a lot of energy on the way, but I feel I get wiser every year.

This year I realized that I want to dedicate more quality time to people I care about and most importantly, myself. Which means saying ‘no’ more often to networking, social media and excessive engagement in the exciting events life in Berlin or spending as much time doing sports just to level up my endorphin since the day/night are not endless at the end of the day. I learned to accept that life is about enjoying different phases and I can’t have everything at once. Even though I am all about intensity and living the live to the fullest. And I tend to live a healthy life, but I reject the idea of focusing myself on the fitness side of things to the extreme; I’m not very good with opium for the masses. While observing constantly self-centered fitness movements, making people look and feel insanely attractive on the surface but leaving the internal battles unresolved, I grin to myself.

Instead, I restarted a psychodynamic therapy, and engaged in a lot of initiatives around the mental health topics-both at workplace (while I was working at SoundCloud and currently, in the agile coach chapter at Native Instruments around the topic of team building and non-violent communication) and within my inner circle, including topics of body acceptance and positivity. I realized my relationships are deeper, and more satisfying although I give myself more space to feel the sadness, or grief, when necessary.

This all brought me to the final paragraph about my life in Berlin. It’s been 3 years now, and I had my ups and downs. I can’t tell how long I will remain in this place, but even in the darkest days I try to see the sun and enjoy other colors than black: even though it matches me universally.

3rd Berlinversary

Three is a magic number. For me it meant different things in the course of my life, and has often related to my relationships with people and places. Now it’s the time to celebrate my 3rd Berlinversary looking back to what I’ve experienced so far and look out in the future what’s about to come.

‘You are not about the people, you are about the places’ said once a good friend of mine to describe me. And that’s me, working by my own choice, with people, all the time.

The other friend doesn’t believe I can stick around for longer than three years in one place and keeps asking me what my next destination is. Funnily enough, my initial thought when moving to Berlin was to stay here for max. 3 years, get some amazing work experience, learn German like a pro and visit all the places in the city I wanted, including clubs, galleries and abandoned places. I didn’t know it’s quite an ambitious plan for 3 years!

So here I am, not willing to move out and having hard time thinking which city would work better for me. I’ve just started my 3rd job, and it’s not that I didn’t like my previous experiences, it’s because this city is full of exciting opportunities. Having said that, lesson learnt #1 is to have a good work/life/travel/party/nature/urban balance. It’s so easy to get passionate about what you do (in my case it’s music tech!) and find like-minded people to accompany you alongside, whatever your thing is. But it’s also important to have a quality ‘solo time’ and wind down.

My German still has a lot of room for improvement, to put it nicely. I can read and understand a lot, write reasonably well (thinking that its structure is a good mental exercise of putting your thoughts together), yet I still feel very shy speaking. Maybe I should re-adjust this plan for the upcoming next 3 years?

I’m still not done with doing things, going places and trying out new stuff, which feels like a bucket with no bottom filled with endless options in this dynamic place. Not all the changes I like though, nor I accept certain grumpiness/negative/coolness vybe branded as ‘a Berlin thing’. I love the community and solidarity aspect which I hope will not get forgotten in the further gentrification and commercialization of the city.

I’ve been through love/hate phases of my stay here, and all the states in between: from bittersweet loneliness to over-socializing, from shivering in the winter to dripping sweat in the summer (*of 2015, never happened again), from Spati-crawling to eating out in a Michelin-star restaurants, you name it. And this is just a partial description of the diversity of Berlin I love.

And by the way, I took this picture today on my way to work <3.
 

BL/CN – Berlin / Barcelona connection

I am back in Berlin after taking some time off to re-discover, re-thing and re-charge, which in my case meant: enjoying the last weeks of summer travelling, sometimes even without moving. This week I have just started a new role and I am super excited about what is about to come. Looking back though, I would like to focus on my connection to Barcelona, a city where I spend around 4 years in total, before relocating to Berlin.

I call Barcelona yet ‘another home’ on this planet and you can put either #2 or #3 or #4 to it, depending on the mood and proximity I share with this place at the given moment. Fortunately, it is quite easy to travel these days between Berlin and Barcelona, so I rarely get to feel very much ‘home sick’ in this sense. For some reason though, coming back this week from this beautiful city made me feel incredibly heart-broken. It was just a little bit confusing to feel so much at home again.

Autumn is one of my favourite periods to travel to Barcelona, given that I can’t stand millions of visitors during the summertime, which partially was a reason for me to move out back in a day. Still, the weather is great: warm and balmy, and occasional rain only ads to the beauty of the city. Autumn 3 years ago was also the time when I took the decision of relocating to Berlin: not an easy, but nevertheless a good one, after seeing what I had achieved and lived.

These days, it is incredibly interesting to me to come back and see the changes: the changing state of affairs, the economy, the improvement in quality of life, and at the same time – horrific gentrification, which is probably another topic for a long entry. In many ways I feel that the processes are similar both in Berlin and in Barcelona, given their focus on innovative tech industry, attracting well-paid professionals from whichever part of the world, causing imbalance with the existing community. Often, leaving the community behind without offering any reasonable solutions or including them in the change.

It is also quite amusing to see how Berlin and Barcelona inspire each other in trendsetting: although they are cities situated in a totally different part of Europe, they are still the coolest kids of the continent, competing within the range varying from the breakfast clubs, gin & tonic bars, terrace parties to music or art events. I would probably say that competing is a wrong word, since both cities are priviledged in a different way; I would rather say, they are complementing each other. I would not look for Berghain in Barcelona or Gaudi’s architecture in Berlin.

In essence, Berlin and Barcelona are two hedonist cities that are attracting people who live to the fullest in a creative and loving way to the world. I can’t live without any of them and I am caught in between the love for both. Thank you my friends in Barcelona for staying here and letting me come back anytime and for those in Berlin to make me feel here so much at home, even when the days become gloomier and darker.

My summer of changes

A month ago I would not expect that my life would turn upside down and back again, and that at the end of it I would relax, unwind on a hammock and look back at it in peace. Maybe slightly exhausted, but still: feeling very lucky. Here is what happened.

My summer started in an operation room at the biggest Berliner hospital: Charité. It was my third surgery this year, and hopefully the last one (leave me alone, all you voodoo people). Looking back, the injuries hit me quite hard in 2017 – partly due to amazing exploratory life I’m living; partly because I ignored them for years, working way too much and not willing to take any time off to heal. While the leg operation was not such a terrible experience, the recovery was super painful. The painkillers available in the hospital were not helping me at all, and I had to rely only on my visitors to bring me the stuff that would actually put me at ease. I shared a room with a funny German lady who would not let me speak English even if I was terribly tired, so my linguistic skills must have evolved then more than ever during the past couple of years spent in Berlin. After a few days I was sent home, with a note that I should avoid walking for 2 more weeks. Walking was an incredible luxury anyway and I had to learn everything from the scratch.

I have come to terms that I will need to really slow down and unwind during these weeks and rely only on my friends. This was the most beautiful surprise of all: learning how many people would care for me, pay me a visit, bring me delicious food, or food for thought. Finally, on 6th July I could walk like a person and was getting ready for returning to work the week after, all recovered and with a lot of energy.

This is when I received dreadful news that over 40% of my colleagues were laid off: the employees I hired, I watched to develop, some of them being my close friends. I could not talk to anyone for the next couple of hours, being in a state of shock and disbelief. I have gone through the lay offs in different companies, but this time it was a place that was more than that. It was a company which created an incredibly human and open culture for the people who cared and loved the product they worked for, and contributed to initiatives like diversity and inclusion, or mental health at workplace, which I found very progressive in the tech industry. I could not believe that this cut has to be made, but apparently it was the only solution for moving forward. More importantly, I was not directly impacted by the lay offs, but most of my team was and this was very difficult for me to accept.

As it comes with the state of grief, the shock was substituted by anger, sadness and finally: acceptance. The business reality is what it is, and not always one can influence that or control it. I made a conscious decision to move on though, given that I’ve been already in talks with another music tech company which I admired and had an offer from, for a role in an exciting team with good outlook for my career development, closing an important chapter for me in a right moment. Within one week my whole life turned upside down, and I found myself in a loop of accepting/resigning and opening my network of contacts to try to connect the dots between the affected people and companies that may be of help.

I was stunned by the solidarity, speed and involvement of the tech community, although there was some chaos involved and it took some time to analyze the mutual needs from both the affected employees and companies offering jobs. It’s been hectic yet rewarding experience, and I am convinced that everyone will be able to move on to find an amazing opportunity. This situation has made the dissolved teams bond and get to know each other in the times of chaos. And to enjoy some bits of the summer too!

I was also very lucky that some of my Berlin friends joined me on a spontaneous visit in Poznań, my home town in Poland which was a great experience, even though it the political events and protests shed light on our stay a lot. Still, I felt proud I could speak up and stand up for the important cause in my country.

So, here I am, writing this all on 31st July, having spent an amazing month of sharing & caring, learning to walk & to dance again. Right before it all happened, a friend of mine shared her thought that she had a strange feeling this will be a remarkable summer, in many ways. There were indeed a series of turbulent events at many levels, and the weather has been dramatic too (also in all ways: from wetness to hotness), so tomorrow I’m leaving Berlin for some period of time to rest, retrospect and regain my physical and emotional balance while sailing in the middle of Atlantic Ocean. See you all in Berlin in the second half of August.

Italianissima

I don’t think there is such a thing like the Italian overdose, but if there is, I am close to trespassing the limit. I am the lucky one who managed to visit Italy twice this month and following the addiction metaphor, I want more of it!

I’ve been to Italy many times and it’s been always a great and intense: with an exception of working out the frustration in the touristic sites (Venice is such a dead place experience). Having said that, I loved wandering around Roma’s diverse neighbourhoods (and not caring about the infamous public transport), meeting the locals in Sardegna (and trying the best sea urchins in my life) or hiking around the beautiful Lago di Como.

More importantly, I met amazing Italian people on my way in almost all the locations I’ve lived in: be it Poland, Portugal, Barcelona or Berlin. I hate to generalize but all of them were from a different part of their country and I loved the diverse aspect of it. Apart from that, for a reason of being loyal to dressing in mostly Italian brands,  my friends call me Italianissima. Funnily enough, I never felt attracted to an idea of living in Italy or learning the language. My best friend Olga is a witness of some of my most embarrassing attempts of speaking Spanish with an Italian accent and failing it. Big time.

These two city breaks: in Naples and in Milan this month gave me such a great energy and creativity boost. The spontaneity, certain level of chaos and celebration of life and art of living with all the senses (for a reason one call it dolce vita) makes Italy so different than in other places. For a reason the Renaissance, Baroque and Quartieri della Moda were invented.

Visiting Naples was a perfect balance between the urban and landscape, and the highlight of the stay was the spontaneous visit in the Teatro San Carlo, the oldest and the most picturesque opera in the world for the acoustic concert of Al di Meola and his band. On the other hand, Milan is the non-traditional, creative burst I always enjoy, regardless of the temperatures one can expect in June.

So what’s the connection with Berlin? Of course, the cheap flight connections, though I think it’s the level of craziness and creativity. And a lots of Italians influencing the scene that make the German capital especially vibrant or sensual. And edible. And black-colour-clothes-loving.

I came back with a sound resolution of making more weekend breaks in Italy, not only to charge myself with the sun, day and night.

Update: I revisited Italy once more that year, on Sicily, and quite recently, in April 2018 in Sardegna. Seeing the diversity of these islands and the country in general, I’m looking forward to come back for more.

Sicily included a trip to Catania, Taormina, Palermo and Isola delle Femmine.

Sardegna was more of a long weekend getaway and included Costa Smeralda: Olbia, Pittulongu, and Golfo Aranci. I’ve visited the North of Sardegna in 2013 and am still in love with Alghero, Stintino and the surroundings. Hope to be back soon!