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.

Sunday is gloomy in Eisenhüttenstadt

This atypical Sunday getaway was a topic of recurring talks with a friend of mine. We both stumbled upon the topic of going to Eisenhüttenstadt partly by accident, partly knowing it from the GDR era, and we both developed unhealthy fascination about this decaying place.

It is probably one of the saddest places in the world. Even in the springtime sun, it looked hazy, depressing and we were one of the very few wandering souls around the town. Other were some people eating ice-cream coloured blue (true story, not a literary fiction at all).

The history of Eisenhüttenstadt is closely linked with the rise of central planning during the GDR, and this is when the crazily concrete urban planning took place, as a socialist model city. Here is a documentary about this Steel Town:

Between 1989-2015 the population dropped by almost 40% and it felt like a place with not a single body (let alone soul). The centre of Eisenhüttenstadt is like the living museum of GDR era itself, and the industrial park offers some breathtaking views of the factory decay.

 

It took us 90 minutes to get there by train via Frankfurt (Oder), which is much more picturesque in the classical meaning of it, however, if you look closely, you will spot children playing around the Soviet-times monument as well as a few abandoned buildings from the same epoque.

I would recommend this Ausflüge to… no one? Unless you like abandoned places, contemplating over the history and urban architecture. I actually do. There are more ghost towns like this in the former GDR area, and it only makes me wonder, will these places reinvent themselves? As I am a sucker for the living museums of industrial revolution, I think humanity can learn from places like Eisenhüttenstadt for the cathartic purposes, and hopefully: the better future.

Dislaimer: after having published this entry I got a lot of criticism from people who live in and love Eisenhüttenstadt. I didn’t mean to offend you, or your town, not discredit it. I only wrote an opinion on central planning and absurds of history that made a big impact on the development on this city. Big part of my writing is ironical and not-to-be-taken too seriously, as I write about my impressions only. I went to Eisenhüttenstadt as I am fascinated by history, brutalist architecture and industrial landscapes, however, I would argue you can call this town ‘beautiful’ by classical standards. I respect and embrace the people who can see the beauty through the abandoned, concrete and industrial landscapes. Once again: I do, and I will come back to Eisenhüttenstadt with more visitors, for sure.

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.

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.

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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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.