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.

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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.

Sunday Funday in Berlin: now & then

Today is one of these days one can only expect the unexpected in terms of the weather in Berlin. Intervals of sun, rain, storm and wind vary and it is rather difficult to plan anything outdoor. But the summer has been pampering the Berliners so far – even to the extreme.

Sundays are never boring: either you go on with the party mode or you go on a nature retreat. Alone or with friends – up to you, this city adjusts to all prefered options, be it brunch by the river channel, sunbathing in one of the public swimming pools or city beaches, visiting museums and galleries or cycling around the city.

It’s fun to see that the city was very active and alive on Sundays many years ago too, in the pre-Nazi era in Berlin. A light-hearted film made by Robert Siodmak in 1930 shows a group of the amateur Berliners in a very Sunday Funday mood. Many of the places pictured in the movie are still a very popular locations for hanging around on a sunny Sunday. However, it’s very interesting to see how the city looked before the WWII and live the spirit of the epoque: strolling down the Nicolassee, falling in love and chilling by the lake shore with a gramophone, or play with the sausages (just check this out!).

The movie will be shown in the Freiluftkino Friedrichshein next weekend (25th July) but for those that for some reason won’t make it, or are stuck at home on this rather rainy day, I attach you below an English-subtitles spoiler. Happy Sunday everyone!

Beyond the Berliner Ring Part One: Rügen

Living in Berlin can devour all of your free time easily without making you notice how quickly it all flies. That how I could easily define my first three months of 2015. Especially that a lot of places still seem so new to me, or at least I still haven’t got time to become tired of them. But there were moments my soul just cried to get the hell out of the city, or at least out of its glass-and-concrete core. So I thought Easter break would be a great occasion to visit Ostsee (German name for the Baltic Sea), and in particular: Rügen Island.

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Long before I’ve got to know this location due to the story of infamous Prora, a monstrous building from the Nazi-era which was planned to become seaside resort for the 3rd Reich workers. It was supposed to gather more than 250 thousands of people for the collective holidays programme, one of the pilars of the KdF policy. The building was never completely finished and for me it currently stands mostly as the monument of how ill-minded politics can lead to unfortunate architectonic actions. More information (in German) can be found in this documentary. Apparently, nowadays there are plans to refurbish the building into some holiday apartaments and a residence for the elderly. For those who rather feel like experiencing this place’s decay altogether with excellent dark kind of music, Her Damit Festival in May could be an interesting option though.

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But Rügen is much more than Prora’s Monster. Actually, it is the Northernmost tip of Germany (Arcona Weather Station), famous for white-sand beaches, dating back 19th-century towns (Putbus!) and resorts (like Binz, where I decided to stay). Apart from that one can find lakes and picturesque bays within the island, hanseatic architecture and just breathtaking, hard to describe in words cliffs (those of the Jasmund National Park!). As a person who spent a great deal of her childhood on the Baltic Sea coast in Poland, where my family had always a very strong affiction to travel, it gave me a nice, familiar feeling.

The food, the look of the resorts, and finally, the specific smell of the salty and cold sea are probably the things that can’t be found on the other coasts. Even if I didn’t dare to take a plunge into the 5-degree-cold water and the aluminium-cooked herring is not comparable to the Mediterranean or Atlantic seafood, I enjoyed greatly this long weekend, reconnecting with the familiar memories in a brand new place, on the other side of the border. Given it’s not that far away from Berlin, some 3-hours-drive by bus or by the Deutsche Bahn, I am seriously considering another short weekend getaway with my bike to discover further this magic island. And the sea, which always teaches me (thank you for this phrase, Pablo Neruda!).

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