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.

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.

 

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.
 

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.

Frühlingsgefühle

The winter’s been long, and hectic; to be completely fair, I don’t know when the springtime started off this year. In a good way the restless times were filled with amazing happenings. I’ve travelled to both very distant and nearby places, I’ve been enjoying my work like never before, I’ve gradually gained more recognition externally and I’ve engaged in interesting initiatives in Berlin community for women in electronic music and tech. I also feel that I’ve never loved the city more than I do now. Although on the surface my relationship with the city rather seem like the ‘it’s complicated’ status.

Not everything’s been awesome lately. I’ve been through some health issues and it showed me the physical limits (not yet memento mori but at least giving some headspace for thinking about myself). While I’m still recovering, I’ve made the most important decision of not exceeding these limits anytime soon. I almost burned out on the job, networks and friendships, but I was lucky enough to spot the symptoms early enough and seek out for support.

I replaced the impossible agenda (even though my life is still pretty much fully planned until July 2017) with blank spots for actually being spontaneous, a space for the sheer laughter and going with the flow, like I used to in my post-Poznań and pre-Berlin life. Even that Germany is not a country for spontaneous people and not making plans leads straightforward to solitude, I prioritise it over forcing myself through 17th event on the 7th day of the week.

I still plan carefully my travels and dream about the upcoming destinations, but will plan to spend the summer in the city, sitting by the river bank, enjoying the long days and warm nights with whatever floats my boat.

Only last week beautiful things happened because of that: on Monday I booked a helicopter trip for 20 EUR for my upcoming holidays on Faroe Islands, on Tuesday I took a long walk with a friend in the sun, on Wednesday I decided to skip the meet up in Factory just to cycle and eat out with my bestie, on Thursday I enjoyed the sunset at Alt-Stralau while wearing a Brazilian bikini, on Friday I left work at 6 pm with saying that my weekend will be ‘low key’. Only to receive a call from a good old friend of mine who happened to be in Berlin. Yesterday I spent time with friends and strangers who became friends, and today I’m indulging myself in the sounds and solitude.

I’m so much looking forward to the changes and new ways of life to discover ahead of me. I’ve lately read about the DRD4-7 gene responsible e.g. for the personality trait of novelty seeking and I already know that I’m a proud owner of it. I’m predisposed to be an eternal nomad, with little tolerance to stability and boredom, and reduced ability to focus on one thing at a time. I have the feeling there’s more people with this particular trait in Berlin than in any other city I’ve lived in the past. But in order to enjoy this fantastic place to the fullest, it is crucial to recover and manage the energy.

And I have the feeling that spring/summer days are the best to do so. I’d like to thank my friend who captured the featured image of my neighbourhood on Friday evening, for reminding me about yet one more reason to love this city.

Techno symphony for Berlin Metropolis

Berlin, the acclaimed city of music, film and creative industry in general, received a very special gift last week.On 8th March 2016, Jeff Mills presented the premiere of his soundtrack for the ‘Symphony of the Great City’ within the Cinemix series. I have to say, that I am still speechless after his performance in a small studio cinema in Hackescher Markt. I am far from being a psychofan, but sitting not even 2 m away from the turntables of the maestro made it for unforgettable experience.

While the original movie is interesting enough to watch anytime, falling under the cinematic Berlin to-dos, the special history and link between Jeff Mills, Underground Resistance, the industrial revolution, and finally the bridge of techno music for Detroit and Berlin, made the Cinemix premiere one of its kind. Legend of the early Tresor years captivated the mood, rhythm and musical landscape of the city, and I bet no one could rewrite the soundtrack better than he did, given his unique connection to Berlin.

Previously we could watch Jeff Mills’ Cinemix production of Fritz Lang’s ‘Metropolis’, as below:

It is incredible, how relevant techno OST can be even after 90 years of the original movie premiere. During the screening of ‘The Symphony of the Great City’ I was stunned, how much the city changed, and at the same time, how much the energy remained the same. Alienation, industrialization, and on the other hand: consumption, excessive and extravagant social/night life describes the early years of 20th Century in Berlin much as the hype these days.

So in case you are curious to check the movie, here is the original footage of the Symphony of the Great City. I can only hope that Jeff Mills’ OST will become one of the most important, timeless masterpieces, universally defining Berlin as a cosmopolitan, dynamic and forward-thinking city.

Berlin Radio

When I was a kid, I remember being haunted by a recurring nightmare that I am being exposed to a radio that can’t be turned off and forced to listen to very bad music and news 24/7. After years of autoanalysis, I obviously put the blame on my parents who made sure that I receive a proper music education from the early years: exposing me to piano and singing classes few times per week. So at the age of 8 or so, I composed my first VERY abstract ‘track’ on my synthesiser. Later I discovered it had something to do with Theo Parrish early experiments. And thus, I developed very low tolerance to bullshit and mainstream sounds.

Music has determined many of my life choices, including the places of residence and travel destinations. And as for my childhood nightmare, last year I discovered someone flipping it into a dream. Aybee, US-origin DJ, filmmaker and producer, currently based in Berlin, created a very interesting story of a journey of a radio throughout different neighbourhoods of the city. I was very happy to see that the radio was broadcasting very deep sounds that were simply ticking the right knobs of my brain. As well as that the people paid attention to it, contrary to the stereotype that Berlin is a cold city full of very indifferent people. But well, to be fair, this radio met people like Ari, Fred P or Levon Vincent on its way. It also passed my house a few times, no wonder why.

All of these DJs are regularly playing in various venues and combine that unique Detroit-Chicago-Berlin flavour. Be it techno, be it soul, be it house or whatever you call it (as I hate labels, I prefer – following my dear friend Enclave – using colours or temperatures to describe music), if I found this radio on the Michaelbruecke, I’d adopt it for life. Just check it out (Aybee is playing regularly in Panorama Bar or Tresor, too) and fall in love with Berlin once again.

Between East and West

It is hard to forget about the division between East and West, especially around 9th November, when Berliners celebrate the opening of the borders and, respectively, the Fall of the Wall in 1989.

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Berlin Wall became the physical symbol of the Iron Curtain and even if nowadays the idea of the Cold War division within one city sounds so abstract, it was a painful reality for many Berliners for over 28 years.

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Today the Wall can be seen from many perspectives: you can learn interesting facts and stories visiting the Berlin Wall Memorial (free admission!), Topographie des Terrors, Checkpoint Charlie, or East Side Gallery – where all the featured photos were taken.

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East Side Gallery, the longest remaining fragment of the wall, today sets the border between the multicultural neighbourhoods of Friedrichshein and Kreuzberg. East Side Galler hosts some great graffitis, mostly related to politics and history. It reminds us there are still many walls on this planet to be tear down…

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Another interesting perspective on the history of the Berlin Wall was presented in a Polish documentary film called “Rabbit a la Berlin”, telling the story of the division and “no man’s land” or “Death stripe” from rabbits’ perspective. It is based on real happenings, as during years, rabbits found a perfect place to live in between the Berlin Wall.

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Nowadays the Wall is long gone, but according to the latest HR research on salaries, Berlin still stands out as the poorest city in Germany. Salaries in Berlin can be up to 25% lower than in other cities. Interesting, as it’s been long enough as well to give Berlin the unofficial name of ‘Silicon Allee’ – innovative IT start ups’ capital.

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‘Poor but sexy’ is no longer an excuse, as the cost of living grows unproportionally to the abovementioned salaries. We can see then, how much time it takes for a city to recover after such terrifying events and decisions.

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However, as this year Germany celebrated 25 years from the unification, I hope this is a good moment for everyone to contemplate the history and its outcomes. I am proud to be living in Berlin, a capital which is maybe still very imperfect, but giving room for people with different backgrounds and ideas. Otherwise, it would still be so grey.

10 thoughts for 1 year in Berlin

So, I can tick the box entitled “one year ago I started a new chapter in Berlin”. Here are some thoughts and learnings acquired during the last year:

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Location: Berlin is the centre of the world. Oh well, Europe at least. Although the real airport might never be opened (?), it is relatively easy and cheap to fly anywhere in Europe, or connect with the transcontinental flights. I guess this year each month I did at least one weekend getaway abroad (little getaways to Poland and other German cities/sites included). I even went to one tip of the world: to Arctic, which was one of my dreams. It took me only 6 hours to get there though! But Berlin can be a little universe itself and it takes years to discover it fully.

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Events: Cutting-edge culture is here. Film festivals, concerts, music festivals and regular nights in some of the emblematic clubs. It’s also great for sports: cycling, surfing, climbing – even though sea and mountains are far away, all is accessible here. But it’s also the best place to be lazy and relax/unwind.

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Cultural life: Apart from clubs, Berlin offers great museums and has more classical offer, like going to a concert in Berliner Philharmoniker or numberless operas or theatres. I particularly enjoy the evenings out in the modern dance companies spaces, like Sophiensaale or Radialsystem V.

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Visitors: Friends still come and visit you, even if you don’t live at the beach (comparing to my previous life in Barcelona). It’s also pretty centric and easily connected, not to mention it takes me literally 2,5 hours to go to my home city in Poland.

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(Job) Opportunities: The start up scene scent is still there in your nostrils, and it is very common to support the local innitiatives and emerging products. Even though the job market is very dynamic, comparing to other German (European) cities, salaries are not amazing. For now the cheap life has been paying off enough, but seems that each year the frequency of using the G-word (‘gentrification’) in different contexts is rising.

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Language: German is not as vicious as they say it is. It took me one year to land somewhere near the B2 level, which means I can easily read the newspapers, understand most of the TV shows, sometimes even go to the cinema and most importantly have a conversation. I still don’t feel too comfortable talking to newly met people, especially if the music is loud, you know. In 2016 this should be OK-ish!

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Climate and nature: Winters are not as long as they say, and summers are amazing and hotter than anywhere else in the central Europe.

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Architecture: So once upon a time, it was all about the Post-War, post-industrial abandoned buildings both on the “East” and “West” side. Berlin is much more than that. There are few cities offering the rainbow on a block of flats’ facade, aren’t they?

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Cuisine: Monday – Vietnamese, Tuesday – Israeli, Wednesday – Spanish tapas, Thursday – Russian, Friday – Indian. Next week you can replace this selection with any other cuisine, and you will find the place to eat out within 1 km radius, I am pretty sure. Berlin is heaven for foodies, and it is still very cheap!

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Lifestyle – described as “whatever works”. Questioning the normality, creative mindset and open-mindedness is probably what I like most about living in Berlin. History of Berlin had it all: pain, tears and joy. When nothing is taken for granted, many things can happen… Like these urban gardens in the centre of the city, or the club opened on the commercial centre’s rooftop.

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Yes, Berlin is probably overrated, but it is still the best place in above-mentioned terms I’ve lived in so far (sorry, Barcelona, you are also awesome and I miss you badly!!!).

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!