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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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!!!).