Richtung Süd: Web Summit 2018, LX

You know my other (blog) half already, and therefore you probably know the other part of my mind, which lives somewhere in the Southern sphere without moving from Berlin. Or at least escaping a few times per year to where it belongs.

This month I travelled to Lisbon aka LX again, partly for business and to connect with new people, partly for being with my best friends and to reconnect with them. The business part of the trip was due to the annual edition of the Web Summit – my first experience at the conference thus far. I expected big hype and crowds, but what I saw was really intimidating in numbers (not only to me), especially in a city that is one of the tiniest European capitals: almost 70000 participants!

The less intimidating, and rather promising one, was the ratio of women attending the event: 43%. It was not only visible in the crowd, but also in the networking focus and number of female speakers and panelists, as well as politicians attending, giving a good role model aspect to the aspiring professionals in various roles in tech.

The number of talks and its focus varied and was obviously impossible to track everything. Some of them stating the obvious, some of them: mind-boggling. I felt a lot of the questions I have for various branches in tech were not necessarily answered but at least well posed. It’s good not to feel alone, but less assuring to see same question marks and not too strong answers on how to move forward. Same comes for democracy, privacy and generally: staying human in technocratic world, while taking the best out of it.

I feel that getting to know inspirational entrepreneurs, mostly women, sharing experiences and ideas, looking for this positive needle in the stack, was my highlight of the event. I left with a few new ideas on my mind, good feedback and hope for the tech industry.

Last but not least, contemplating ocean waves from the Westernmost continental part of Europe was a bliss like always. Sharing this time with my best friend and great business mind in one person, and gave me a lot of hopes for women and for tech, together.

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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!

Richtung Ost: Suwalszczyzna & Podlasie

I enjoy building small repositories for my foreign friends about my country of origin, and the nearest bordering country to Berlin at the same time: Poland. So far, I’ve mentioned bits and pieces about the city I was born and grown up: Poznan, the capital: Warsaw and the North-Western coast altogether with the city of Szczecin.

This time I’d like to focus on the North-Easternmost region of Poland: Suwalszczyzna and Podlasie, which is the home region of my boyfriend and thanks to whom I managed to discover this beautiful remote landscape this summer.

It takes between 13-18 hours altogether to reach Suwalki, the capital town of the region by train or bus from Berlin, so it made sense to visit our friends and family in Poznan and Warsaw on the way, especially that the summer was extremely hot this year and the journey was tedious. Then, the train took us to Bialystok, the capital of Podlasie, and all the way up to Suwalki, surpassing one of the largest woods in Poland and making way to the region of countless lakes.

It was my second time in Suwalki, since I’ve visited it on my way to Lithuania when I was a teenager. It’s actually quite close to the Russian, Lithuanian and Belarusian border, which naturally brings various culinary, linguistic and architectural influences to this region, including having banyas for the long and cold winters. Actually, Suwalki is considered the most remote and cold city of Poland. The weather forecast always places it as the frozen North Pole of Poland, and during winter it’s not uncommon to have the temperature drop to -25 or -30 Celcius degrees.

This is probably why the current tagline of the city is ‘Pogodne Suwalki’ which can be loosely transalted to ‘cheerful’ or ‘sunny’ at the same time. I could experience that for real. We were discovering the city on bikes thanks to the currently expanding infrastructure. It’s not entirely possible to visit all the surrounding lakes by this means of transportation yet, but it’s a great leap forward for the region to preserve the nature.

We were also very lucky to participate in the jazz concert from the series of the local cultural society SOK. We watched a jazz recital by the Silesian pianist Krzysztof Kobylinski, a founder of the Silesian Cultural Centre Jazovia where he invested most of his earnings from his previous life as a business man.

During the remaining days we were mostly day drinking, daydreaming, eating out at local Tatar vegetarian (yes!) bistrot, and birdwatching. The silence of the woods and the lakes made us spot such rare species as Osprey Eagle. My boyfriend could not believe such species exist, i.e. eagles that hunt fish from the lakes. And now while I write this blog post, he’s binge watching the osprey channel on YouTube.

On the way back to Warsaw we have stopped by Bialystok, the largest city in the Eastern part of Poland, the capital of Podlasie. Contrary to its current fame of being the most right-wing city, and that it’s not very welcoming to strangers, in the past it was one of the most multicultural cities of Poland, bringing together Jewish, Tatars, Orthodox and Catholics. Even its city hall is grinning all the time, despite the controversy.

Bialystok has as well a very impressive Branicki palace complex and a cosmic-shaped opera house. Speaking of birds again, we wanted to visit Silvarium – a unique, forest-based shelter for wild animals that need rehabilitation but we did not manage to find time this year.

Altogether, it was a great insight to the remote part of Poland which is a secret well-kept, so if you ever explore these natural wonders, do it with consideration, which is my usual ask for the places I write about. Even though, as the last rumour I’ve heard, the airport is built in Suwalki, and the remoteness of the place might be gone soon…

 

Harz – for life, and for a weekend too!

Last month I decided for a very spontaneous weekend getaway with my boyfriend. It was very close to our unofficial anniversary and his birthday anyway so I thought about planning a short & sweet trip for us. Since I’m definitely the more wanderlust-craving spirit in our constellation, I simply thought about the location we’d both enjoy and told him in advance of one week or so not to book anything for that weekend.

With a Schönes-Wochenende-Ticket in hand we met at Alexanderplatz and after 2,5 hours and changing trains twice (he really couldn’t tell where is our final destination and hence the suprise was even better) we arrived in Wernigerode. It’s a lovely town on a former Eastern German border of the Harz mountains region,just below the highest mountain: Brocken, and a house of a renowned technical university.

While Berlin is NOT Germany in most of ways, the heart of Germany (and Harz region is located in the middle of the country) definitely is. We could finally practice our German almost everywhere, as English was scarcely in use.

Wernigerode offers a glimpse into a typical Prussian-style architecture, has a cute old market square with tiny owl-shaped bells ringing a melody every hour, a magnificent Schloss (German castle) and a lot of green spaces.

One can spot some peculiarities like teeth in a garden and enjoy a delicious local cuisine. Thanks to my colleague’s recommendation we had a chance to try ZeitWerk – creative & purist menu awarded by a Michelin star in 2018. Forget about the heaviness of the German dishes and try the seasonal dishes – most of them being vegetarian or if needed, offering vegetarian option menu, not always common for the star restaurants.

We also had great fun traveling on a steam train from the early 1900s all the way up to the Brocken top. It stops in various locations where one can either hike around the rocky formations or enjoy a number of Biergarten spots. The only hassle with it is the all-time present steam which is actually bringing us back in time, where industrial pollution was a part of the landscape. Now, we can observe how heavily polluted the local forest and the area around the station is. Maybe some eco-version of the same will come up soon.

So within a 2,5 hours reach from Berlin, we ended up in a very different landscape, culture and although short, we could taste the little getaway outside of Berlin. This year I aim to visit more German cities, but also parks, mountains and wildlife.

 

Balkan Hot Step

It took me a very long time to put together my impressions from various travels around Balkans. The diversity, and the amount of beautiful pictures I took was simply overwhelming and I couldn’t really decide should I be crafting a single blog entry or multiple ones.

Truth is, it’s been over a year ago since my last visit to Croatian Zadar, Nin, Plitvice Lakes and Ugljan island and I am officially ashamed of procrastinating publishing these gems.

To start off with, visiting Zadar in April 2017 was a great idea, since the springtime in Berlin didn’t really kick in, and the amount of sun, friendliness and music coming from the famous Sea Organs were literally a bliss to me, after a few intense weeks and healing after some operations I had to take last year.

I decided to take a day trip to Plitvice National Park, where the spring was only blossoming, as it is located further up in the mountains. It was still not so crowded, so I could enjoy myself visiting at my own pace, not worrying about the massive groups stepping on my shoes.

I can imagine though that Croatia, being one of the most popular tourist locations, attracts thousands of visitors to their national parks during the high season. To avoid getting too much crowds, there is a daily limit of entrance, which seems a valid thing to do to protect this stunning nature.

Some other sites around Zadar’s area I’ve visited include the picturesque town of Nin and nearby island Ugljan, where you can explore various hiking trails and peace of mind. I didn’t manage to visit the islands of Kornati where thousands of bird species are nesting, due to the lack of ferry service around the lower season.

Looking back to 2016, I spent over a week in between Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro, as I was invited to speak at a conference in Dubrovnik.

I was amazed by a daily trip to Mostar in Herzegovina region, where the cultures truly melt, and years after the war, the city is shining. Driving through the country, the signs of the painful times remained, making me wonder how come such terror could have happened in this beautiful land.

Dubrovnik itself is a special city. Located in a land strip between Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro, is typically more expensive than the rest of Croatia, but is a gem nevertheless. Old town, villas, riveras and wonderful neighbourhoods are spread around the hills and various bays.

I also took an opportunity to visit the Kotor Bay in Montenegro, which stole my heart, especially taking a boat trip to a monastery located in the middle of the bay, and exploring the sleepy and not so crowded town of Kotor.

Even though Montenegro is not a part of EU, due to an economic post-war treaty, it is possible to pay in Euro currency.

Taking time to drive around these three countries was a great experience, as I wanted to learn much as I could about various cultures, religions, conflicts and its resolutions alongside the history.

Last but not least, I explored the area of Split, where my flight was originating from and I had a great time both in the city and on the surrounding islands of Hvar and Bol.

Split is a lively port connecting Croatia and Italy, and Dalmatian history is very well preserved there. Besides the old town rich in historic monuments, there’s a lot of city beaches and relaxing spots.

It is very easy to travel from Split for a day trip and hike around the magical islands, like Hvar and Bol, with its turquoise waters and golden sands, some of them rated as a top sites according to the beachtesters.

Since Croatia has over thousands of islands to visit, I don’t think this is the last time I’ll be exploring that place and can’t wait to be back in the warmth of these regions. I still would love to visit the inland part and countries of Serbia and Macedonia, but sooner or later I know I will, especially knowing I have some great friends coming from these places. Hvala!

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.

BL/CN – Berlin / Barcelona connection

I am back in Berlin after taking some time off to re-discover, re-thing and re-charge, which in my case meant: enjoying the last weeks of summer travelling, sometimes even without moving. This week I have just started a new role and I am super excited about what is about to come. Looking back though, I would like to focus on my connection to Barcelona, a city where I spend around 4 years in total, before relocating to Berlin.

I call Barcelona yet ‘another home’ on this planet and you can put either #2 or #3 or #4 to it, depending on the mood and proximity I share with this place at the given moment. Fortunately, it is quite easy to travel these days between Berlin and Barcelona, so I rarely get to feel very much ‘home sick’ in this sense. For some reason though, coming back this week from this beautiful city made me feel incredibly heart-broken. It was just a little bit confusing to feel so much at home again.

Autumn is one of my favourite periods to travel to Barcelona, given that I can’t stand millions of visitors during the summertime, which partially was a reason for me to move out back in a day. Still, the weather is great: warm and balmy, and occasional rain only ads to the beauty of the city. Autumn 3 years ago was also the time when I took the decision of relocating to Berlin: not an easy, but nevertheless a good one, after seeing what I had achieved and lived.

These days, it is incredibly interesting to me to come back and see the changes: the changing state of affairs, the economy, the improvement in quality of life, and at the same time – horrific gentrification, which is probably another topic for a long entry. In many ways I feel that the processes are similar both in Berlin and in Barcelona, given their focus on innovative tech industry, attracting well-paid professionals from whichever part of the world, causing imbalance with the existing community. Often, leaving the community behind without offering any reasonable solutions or including them in the change.

It is also quite amusing to see how Berlin and Barcelona inspire each other in trendsetting: although they are cities situated in a totally different part of Europe, they are still the coolest kids of the continent, competing within the range varying from the breakfast clubs, gin & tonic bars, terrace parties to music or art events. I would probably say that competing is a wrong word, since both cities are priviledged in a different way; I would rather say, they are complementing each other. I would not look for Berghain in Barcelona or Gaudi’s architecture in Berlin.

In essence, Berlin and Barcelona are two hedonist cities that are attracting people who live to the fullest in a creative and loving way to the world. I can’t live without any of them and I am caught in between the love for both. Thank you my friends in Barcelona for staying here and letting me come back anytime and for those in Berlin to make me feel here so much at home, even when the days become gloomier and darker.