Auseklis of Latvia 

Auseklis in Latvian means ‘The morning star’ and symbolizes protection from dark and evil. As somewhat my long weekend getaway coincided with the season change in Latvia: from long winter to springtime awakening, I feel that this could be a could symbols for the changes that were going on not only in nature, but also in my life.

For some reason, even while I visited both Lithuania and Estonia years ago, Latvia was always a pending country in Europe to see. What accelerated my visit were a few spare days in April I could use up for holidays and having two of my friends living there and posting beautiful Instagram pictures of Riga, Baltic coast and Sigulda, even in the gloomy wintertime.

I stayed in the hipster part of Riga (where else I could end up, ha ha) nearby Miera Street, full of original cafes, craft beer bars, theatres and streetart. And Laima – the chocolate factory, which tested really good!

I obviously checked the must-see boxes in the beautiful Riga’s Old Town learning about Latvia’s rich yet turbulent history, including visiting the Jewish Ghetto. I was equally enchanted by the Art Nouveau district, and post-industrial parts of the city, as much as the parks.

I didn’t go out at night beyond the Miera Street – my friends warned me that most likely for clubbing in Riga, I’d need to dress up in high heels. Berlin all-black-everything-I-don’t-give-a-damn style still didn’t get in here.

Instead, I chose an early morning escape to Sigulda, Krimulda and Turaida. 1 hour train ride from Riga you can find yourself in the beautiful Gauja National Park which is a paradise for hiking. Local tourist information offers a lot of advice regarding the most interesting paths. I opted for the 25 km one which was ambitious but extremely pleasant, including visiting the castle in Turaida, Park of Walking Sticks in Sigulda (?!), Sculpture Park of Krisjan Baron (Latvian natural art representative), as well as some bird-watching reserve. And since it was a very early springtime one could witness the sheer awakening of all the species!

On the third day I visited Jurmala, a seaside resort town and hosting of one of the most beautiful beaches. All in all, I was extremely happy to have discovered Latvia, and I would like to thank my friends for the extensive list of tips prior to visiting it.

And today I’m even more happy since one of them is re-visiting me in Berlin!

 

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.