Richtung West: Herbst in Westphalia

The month of October marks my Berlinversary – this year it’s been exactly four years since I relocated from Barcelona and started a new life. One year ago my friend Aleksandra, with whom I shared a lot of important moments in the Barcelona chapter has relocated to Germany too. She’s now living in Hessen, not too far away from Frankfurt and we try to find a way of seeing each other regularly, and at the same time discovering our new country of residence together.

This time we decided to travel to Westphalia, namely Köln and Bonn for a weekend getaway.

Köln was our main location where we aimed to discover the city life during the evenings. We kicked off our brief sightseeing from the picturesque Old Town and Rheinterassen, encouraged and discouraged at the same time by my German friends. They told me these are fun places to be, unless it gets very crowded, touristy and bachelor party-like. Which was the case of the Friday night and we picked a nice Iranian restaurant to simply catch up after months of not seeing each other.

I visited Köln years ago, on my way to Lisbon by train and not surprisingly, I mostly remembered a magnificent Cathedral visible long before you arrive to the main station.

Since Köln is so easily connected with the rest of the cities in Westphalia, we used regional and S-bahn service to discover Bonn, and eventually Düsseldorf window-watching Rhein banks and leaving city panoramas behind.

We spent almost whole Saturday in the sun walking around Bonn’s river bank, and tasting various Grauburgunder type of wines – it was a perfect match for the weather and for the companionship. Since Bonn is an interesting city from historical, administrative and architectural perspective, after visiting a cute Old Town and Beethoven’s house, we decided to focus our sightseeing around the Museumsmeile – ‘a mile of museums’, including those dedicated to modern art, German history and arithmetic.

Museum der Geschischte is an accessible museum documenting the history of GDR and FDR (aka West Germany) while walking from the basement towards the upper part of the building, seeing the stories from both sides of the wall in parallel.

It’s definitely a place worth visiting to learn that actually, there were a lot of similarities on both sides, regardless of the wall and propaganda separating the country artificially. Ending up with an installation about the recent refugee crisis in Europe, one may think about how divisions are simply some powerful ways of manipulating the population.

After visiting Köln and Bonn, I convinced Aleksandra to spend the whole Sunday in Düsseldorf, another interesting city of business, art and architectural importance.

On our way to K20 and K21 – modern museums of Düsseldorf, we passed an interesting Japanese district, due to the presence of the consulate and thousands of residence of this origin, which brought my thoughts back to Tokyo.

Elegant and minimalist architecture is a landmark of the city, and that makes it utterly photogenic one, especially caught in the lense of Aleksandra’s phone.

We were very happy to see a lot of green spaces with flock of birds, namely Canada geese, as we’re both animal lovers and I’m particularly a bird watcher every now and then.

Last but not least, city landscape did not disappoint us when it comes to the ever-present modern, quirky art, even though the soul of the city seems definitely opposite to ‘poor but sexy’ Berlin, showing off often as posh/BCBG.

To finish off, this was a very compact weekend, though at the same time we discovered all of the three cities at our own pace, with necessary breaks to indulge in the vegan restaurant options, which was not problematic nor costly (ask me for a breakfast buffer menu of 5 EUR if you’re interested). Autumn (ger. Herbst) remains my favourite season to discover this country, and it doesn’t necessarily mean going all crazy at Oktoberfest!

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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.

Radiohouse

Funkhaus stands for a broadcasting station in German, and is also one of my favourite venue in Berlin. Not surprisingly, this building is a former GDR radio broadcast centre built in the 50s. It’s located far East of the city, overlooking River Spree and it’s already quite a challenge to get in there, especially if you do it for the first time. In 2017, it was a venue for events like TOA, Loop and various concerts labeled as Funkhaus Sessions, such as Francesco Tristano’s, Jan Jelinek’s & Kaithlyn Aurelia Smith’s or Lamb’s 20th anniversary tour.

Since music is one of the primary reasons why I’ve been living in Berlin for over 3 years, both in my professional and in my private life, no wonder I spend a good chunk of my time off at gigs. I’m no longer keen to put long hours in partying, I focus mostly on the concerts these days.

And Funkhaus is one of my top-notch venue for large-scale electronic and experimental music events, live performances and installations. It’s also a house for MONOM, an experimental performance and spatial sound studio, equipped with a high-spec 4DSOUND system, a spatial instrument that enables a physical and interactive sound environment.

What I love the most about concerts at Funkhaus, is the great fusion of 50s architecture taste, great sound acoustics and a special, intimate bond between the artists on stage and the audience.

I am already looking forward to some of the Funkhaus Sessions in 2018, as the line up looks equally exciting as in the past couple of years.

In the summer, especially when the events such as Tech Open Air take place, one can reach Funkhaus by a boat, in the winter, it often means a long ride in the darkness by a tram 21 and a long walk by the misty banks of Spree. The feeling of arriving in the cosy, stylish and wooden House of the Radio Sound is one of it’s kind though.

So even if today I’ll miss Nils Frahm’s concert I was waiting for a long time (sold out 6 months in advance or so), simply because a January flu knocked me off my feet this week, I hope others that can participate in this event, will enjoy it on my behalf!

 

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!

Oishii Osaka

Around this time of the year thousands, if not millions, of tourists head to Japan to see cherry trees blossoming. And even though Berlin could compete with the number of cherry trees with any Japanese city, my mind travels back, especially that my social media is full of photos made by my friends currently exploring this beautiful country. So, here I am back with my Japanese travelogue, 6 months after my trip! Today’s turn is for Osaka – the city of guilty pleasures.

It was a third city I visited on my way through Japan by the Shinkansen speed rail, after Kyoto and Tokyo, and I chose to arrive there on Friday evening. Only 30 minutes away from Kyoto, I spotted an instant difference (or my expectations were set very well): a city which never sleeps, which is more relaxed and modern at the same time. As a harbour city, it has more foreign influences and has been considered as the most open-minded in Japan.

Smaller than Tokyo, yet equally dynamic, and considerably cheaper Osaka is a perfect place to explore the dining pleasures – both street food and various restaurants. I was also lucky enough to find a secret party place on the backdoor of a vinyl store – only to find out that one of the residents have lived and played in my neighbourhood in Berlin. The world of techno & house has no borders! While exploring the city by day on its light rail, I was amazed by the architecture and the skyline – including the futuristic Sky Building.

But Osaka is not only concrete and glass outta space architecture, it is also very kawaii, diverse and colourful. Exploring the city at night is crazily fun, especially when you are open to a possibility to get lost under the neons or ‘meet’ the walking street lights. Osaka is a Japanese home for the Universal Studios, where I was lucky to meet a lot of cos-play teenagers.

Having played with iguanas, listened to street music of various genres, eaten things I can not name and trying various types of Japanese beers at the local brewery festival, I was ready to move on to the South.

But before that, I made sure to combine the city craziness experience with the stunning nature and I woke up early to visit Koya-san. To be continued!

(You’re not) alone in Kyoto

The title of this post is true, even in the times of post-truth, since during my stay in Japan I felt it was the most flooded place with tourists. Even so, I managed to get away and spend some quality time with me, myself and I. How did I manage to do it, surrounded by the crowds of tourists dressed as geishas and selfie-sticks?

Well, weather was somewhat on my side, since the thyphoon hit me just as I was walking through the Fushimi Inari temple at dusk. Geishas and selfie-sticksters were not prepared for the sudden weather change and they escaped quickly, leaving me in peace and shelter of this magic temple. The thyphoon heading from Okinawa Islands to mainland Japan was not as strong anymore, the gusts of wind and rain were just fine for me to do the sightseeing, thinking that this sort of winds are nothing special in Berlin. However, as a disclaimer &promoting staying safe during travels I would not recommend ignoring thyphoons!

The next day I had a chance to revisit Fushimi Inari in the radiant sun, and enjoy the 4-km walk underneath the countless Torii, hoping that the Fox (messenger for luck in business and wealth) will listen to my thoughts.

While staying in Tokyo it may take you years to notice a real geisha, in Kyoto is the question of minutes. Not only it’s a city hosting the most traditional education for this special profession, it’s naturally more conservative than Tokyo or Osaka. I even got to know an Italian professor educating the foreigners about the art of wearing kimonos.

However, there are parts of Kyoto trying to overcome the stereotype of being the old capital and traditional design only. The tower of Kyoto is a good example – hated by some, I managed to capture its controversial beauty from various perspectives.

Kyoto is fascinating for its small town-like neighbourhoods like Hanazono, Gion or Higashiyama which makes you forget you’re in almost 3-million city. I especially enjoyed the walks by the river.

One walk that can’t be missed while in Kyoto is the Philosopher’s Path by the Daimonjiyama mountain’s creek. I was lucky enough to meet an elderly man with a corgi dog, probably both a pair of renowned philosophers!

 

Thanks to my friend’s brother Kay, Kyoto’s local and Cabo Verde music’s expert, I was introduced to a bunch of Italian expats living in the city and to the local food and sake. What a treat it was, and I had a lovely evening in the mixed sounds of Japanese/English/Italian and Portuguese surrounding me! The next day I couldn’t help myself and visited the Nishiki Market.

Kyoto is a city of sacred temples, zen contemplation and letting the nature speak for itself. I found the less-crowded places like Ryoan-Ji very special (and quiet that your thoughts are louder than the frogs in the pond). The iconic Golden Pavillon (aka Kinkaku-Ji) is probably one of the most picturesque places I’ve seen in my life, regardless of the crowds.

Last but not least, during my 3-day stay, I took a walk through the Bamboo Forest, reflecting on how small I am comparing to these beautiful trees and the time it took them to grow. I often wondered how Kyoto looked hundreds years ago, and I can only imagine wonderful pictures in my head.

During writing this post I was listening to the LPs released in Berlin in early 2000s, which were somewhat related to this wonderful city: Kyoto Jazz Massive – Spirit of the Sun and Jazzanova – Hanazono.

Berlin-Tokyo-connection

It’s been already 4 months since I visited Japan, but I can’t get this place out of my mind. Eating out Japanese food, drinking matcha instead of coffee and listening to Japanese jazz & funk in Berlin can help only partially, as I miss this place so much! And I only scratched the surface. However, in a way I do think that these cities are somewhat connected in the way they bridge 24/7 craziness with awesome and orderly urban planning, let alone big errors in their history and reinventing themselves after all.

So it’s high time to publish at least some of my photos taken during my 15 days travelling around and visiting Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara, Osaka, Koya-San, Hiroshima, Miyajima, Nagasaki, Gunkanjima, Yokohama and Nikko. Indeed, scratching the surface but there is so much to see almost everywhere!

When I landed in Tokyo, although jet lagged and overwhelmed by 22nd century inventions (TOTO included), I already felt I will love the place. I’ve chosen a good time to visit: Indian summer felt warm, but not too humid, which can be a problem if you visit Tokyo during summer months. I decided to share my time and energy between the crazy neighbourhoods like Ikebukuro, Akihabara and Shinjuku and peaceful places like Ueno Park, Asakusa or Hamarikyu Gardens.

But usual unusual places like owl shrines, directions to ‘Sunshine’, noisy pachinko spots and cat cafes were stealing my attention continuously. Crowded Tokyo makes anything possible: J-pop merging with dark techno, commercial centres located next to sacred shinto places. And its cities for some reason stay almost sterile.

Not only safety and cleanness impress tourists, also train and subway connections make you feel very small. But not lost – it’s actually very difficult to get lost in Japan, even if you don’t know the language. Everyone is helpful, patient and information is usually available in English… to some extent. For some reason I always felt I was missing out a lot, if not being ‘lost in translation’.

Among the most remarkable things I’ve done in Tokyo I listed: visiting geysha bar with my sexologist friend Masayoshi, trying to fry our own okonomiyaki with Gosia – a friend from Poznan I only managed to meet in Tokyo after years, and visiting onsen in Tokyo Dome with Kyoto-born and Spanish-speaking Yasue followed by a feast of ‘Japanese tapas’. All of that, was shockingly (!) good!

My personal highlight would definitely be digging the vinyl crates around Shibuya and Ebisu and finding some rare gems at Jazzy Sport Music Shop, to start off. And buying XS-sized Issey Miyake clothes that fit me on a ridiculous sale.

For some people the size of Tokyo is overwhelming, but I have to admit, after finding my way throughout the city, I felt pretty comfortable commuting between the neighbourhoods. I guess it’s the proportion between the amount of concrete and the green spaces that makes Tokyo such a healthy living organism. Also, I was told that it never stays the same: due to space limitations, the buildings are rebuilt approximately within 10-20 years, so chances are, that when I visit it next, I won’t recognize some of my pictures.

Day and night differ so much though. Bars between Shibuya and Shinjuku in a weird way remind me those from Berlin, and during my stay even Tresor Festival took place in Tokyo.

It all leads me to a conclusion: the discovery is never complete but there are dots that one can connect easily. It felt impossible to write a single entry about Tokyo, and after reading a few books, I know there is no such thing like a closed chapter that can be written about this city. I feel the same about Berlin, although on a different, everyday scale. Time for my last matcha latte today!