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.
 

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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.

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.

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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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!

Hafen City

Long time no write, but what a month it was… May is a very special month in Germany. Not only the cities become greener and more appealing, the days are truly longer, but also ,surprisingly, there are a lot of long weekend deals. This is why I was too busy travelling and/or going out these days to keep my German diary updated.

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My first destination outside of Berliner Universe was one of its rival cities: Hamburg. I always wanted to go there are this is one of the biggest and also open-minded cities in Germany. For centuries, it’s been a most important Hanseatic port which allowed different cultures influence this part of Europe.

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My biggest surprise of all was to encounter the genuinely Portuguese corner very close to the city centre. And as we speak of the neighbourhoods, even though Hamburg is not as big and diversified as Berlin, I was enchanted by its variety of choices.

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Obviously, the city lives on water, which I find a vital thing. The former port and its belonging granaries is currently the most elegant, refurbished and newly acquired Hafen City where restaurants, bars and galleries are popping up one after another. It is also a visual pleasure for the architectonic aficionados, be it the Hamburger Philharmonic, or various 17th century port buildings.

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Hamburg has also its own beach up North – Blankenese, where residential life meets the beauty of nature. For the nightlife and affordable eating out, I would definitely recommend the ever-alternative St. Pauli and Sternschanze (which, no offence, somewhat made feel very similar to Berlin’s most trendy Kiez). On the May 1st, traditionally a Riot Date in Berlin – St. Pauli became a war place between the Left and Right wing and the police in between, so maybe next time I’d recommend to avoid this neighbourhood when around this time. At least if you’re not a definite riot type, it’s just better to chill, feed birds and enjoy the breeze on the Alsterpavillon.

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