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.

Advertisements

Horrid playgrounds of Berlin

After almost 2 years I’ve been living here, I have to admit I am never bored of exploring Berlin. Its diversity and creative energy is endless, as I roam around the streets, lakes, clubs, and widely defined ‘places’. Today I’d like to focus on a controversial topic of playgrounds in Berlin.

Why? As me and my friend Marta (who is the author of several pictures in this post and my partner in crime when it comes to discovering abandoned, inspiring and often horrid places) made some previous research about playgrounds, we couldn’t find the answer the origin of their specific design, to put it nicely. It’s interesting, since I know that other different secrets of Berlin have been investigated thoroughly (including the secret life of homeless Christmas trees).

Well, sometimes ill-designed amusement parks (such as Spree Park) or city attractions (like the Parks of Walking Sticks I was very tempted to see in Latvia) can be particularly romantic or even become a symbol of the city (e.g. bear sculptures in Friedrichshein are far from being cheerful).

There is a fine thin line between ‘inspiring’ and ‘scary’ though as you can see from some of the pictures we took from Spandau to Marzahn, as well as from Pankow to Tempelhof. Most of the playgrounds were empty, and I am not wondering why: the creatures looked pretty horrid, or at least very sad.

However, I wanted to say that I am not an enemy of this type of playgrounds, much as I enjoy abandoned or post-industrial places. I think that simple, wooden objects and toys can actually boost creativity in children while they explore their world. Maybe there is some underlying psychological theory beyond the specific design of these playgrounds?

To prove my argument, above I’d like to attach fragments of the book I found on the board of MS Polargirl while travelling in arctic Svalbard. You can clearly see that the author plays with the common objects found within the natural habitat (including reindeer’s bones or skulls) to create new faces, funny gnomes or island’s demons. Are Berliner playgrounds the caricature of the city?

Sound Sculpture in Szczecin

Last month for me was exceptionally full of events in Berlin during the work week, and shorter or longer getaways during the weekends. Similarly like last year around springtime, I felt tempted to explore not only Berlin and Brandenburg, but also the coastline.

Triggered by the concert of one of my favourite Polish electronic music producers in the newly built Philharmonic Hall in Szczecin, together with my friend, we decided to spend a weekend in Szczecin, the biggest Polish city situated next to the North-Eastern frontier.

Typically people would go there on the way to some other locations: like for instance Polish seaside towns or even more popular summer festivals, like Plötzlich am Meer. The train ride to Szczecin would take us less than 2 hours and cost… less than 6 EUR, if you manage to find your ‘Berlin-Brandenburg-Ticket’ group, which is almost a ritual part of this route. Otherwise, if you don’t feel like socializing, you can stick to a special fare, individual ticket for 10 EUR.

Szczecin itself has its specific charm. On one hand, it’s probably one of the most spacious cities in terms of territory: situated by the bay, river and countless lakes, it is indeed huge. Given its difficult, war, post-war and heavily industrialised history, it also seems derelict or unproportionally uncrowded comparing to its size. This has a lot to do with the migrations to other bigger cities or neighbouring Germany. So obviously there are places one shouldn’t visit after the sun goes down.

However, there are some sparkles of creativity in reconstructing the city, and bringing more cultural events. The area surrounding the castle and the promenade is full of interesting street art and the city tries to attract different people by hosting cultural events such as Kontrapunkt, or at least inviting unusual artists like Skalpel for the electronic music showcases in the extraordinary set up in the Philharmonic, which is worth visiting itself.

I enjoyed this visit greatly, given that I was pointed many recommendations by my friends originating from Szczecin and the concert exceeded my expectations.

If you like history, scratching beyond the surface, and discovering the beauty in the atypically interesting architecture, yet you’re bold enough – visiting Szczecin sounds good in combining it with one of its cultural events.

 

 

Detroit B2B Berlin

Cold days = getting sick. Getting sick = managing to read all the pending stuff I wanted to. A Pulitzer-winning author, Charlie LeDuff was one of those on the waiting list on my shelf. Detroit-born writer and journalist stole my sick days with his reportage ‘Detroit: An American Autopsy’. Although I have never been to Detroit, it’s on my travel list since ages. I have also watched tones of the documentaries about this fascinating city, such as:

Also, my fascination with the remote and abandoned places, urban apocalipse and related started a while ago. Only in Berlin though I realised how many stories of the ‘wounded cities’ that once used to be flourishing with industrial jobs are hidden in the abandoned factories and warehouses. Berlin is a perfect place of offering such places a second life, often linked to great cultural venues, such as Stattbad (no longer existing though), Kraftwerk and Tresor anyway, Berghain, Urban Spree and many more which I still did not manage to describe here. There is still a full list of horrifying, dreadful and yet absolutely fascinating decay buildings for me to discover.

So not only postindustrial images, but also the emerging creativity links Detroit with Berlin. Obviously, both cities offer strikingly different vision on the social welfare, and supporting the cultural scene, but the fact is that techno music was born in parallel both in Detroit, and in Berlin. It emerged from the painful history, and events. And from extraordinary creative energy. Some interesting facts are gathered in the following documentary:

Nowadays there are many DJs from Detroit based in Berlin as permanent residents, and enriching the techno culture. Berlin wouldn’t offer the sounds we hear nowadays, if it wasn’t for Detroit. So, being relatively in a better shape, thanks to the economy based on the tech and creative industry, Berlin owes a lot to Detroit.

Beyond 79° latitude: Pyramiden

Pyramiden or Piramida (Пирамида in Russian) was one of the most beautiful abandoned places I’ve visited while exploring the Arctic Island of Svalbard. To get there you need to sail for a few hours from Longyearbyen, the administrative capital and the most populous town on Spitzbergen, the biggest island of the Svalbard archipelago.

IMG_2918 IMG_2914

Sailing up to 79th latitude offers spectacular views, such as Arctic skyline, fiords and mountain ranges.

IMG_2953 IMG_2996

Neighbouring with Pyramiden is the Nordenskiöld glacier, and its majesty can be seen from all over the town.

IMG_3016 IMG_3017

Back in a day, Pyramiden was a soviet mining settlement which was inhabited by roughly 2000 people. After 1997, when the bancrupcy of the coal company led to evacuating the entire population, it became a ghost town. For many years no foot was set there, and currently there are only a few people living in Pyramiden, taking care of the remnant buildings in the town.

IMG_3012 IMG_3077

There is no mobile, nor Internet connection, but yes, indeed, there are polar bears in the settlement. I have not met any, but heard from the guide that there was one approaching, so he had to walk vigilant with his riffle loaded.

IMG_3020 IMG_3025

Pyramiden is very green in the Arctic summer. Even the grass greener on the Pyramiden side! Wait: grass in Arctic? Well, not naturally. In the past, Soviets tried to bring as much normality to this Artctic town, as possible. Importing food and grocery was very expensive, so they brought fertile soil from Crimea region and tried to grow veggies at the 79° latitude. As we can see years after, the experiment was not entirely absurd.

IMG_3040 IMG_3094

And Lenin is still there, watching the magnificent glacier and brutalist architecture. Once hosting workers’ families and offering all sort of facilities: gym, school and kindergarten, now Pyramiden’s blocks are home to countless Arctic birds.

IMG_3092 IMG_3109

Sasha, the legendary guide and one of the few long-term inhabitants of Pyramiden. And tulips, which may still remember some wild parties on the International Women’s Day…

IMG_3059 IMG_3090

If you are visiting Pyramiden with Sasha or Pavel (the other guide who joined the town this year), you will be able to enter to cantine or culture house where the facilities and art was left untouched since the last inhabitants left.

IMG_3070 IMG_3066

You can even play football, contemplate in the library…

IMG_3072 IMG_3075

…or play balalajka and read through some important posters from the 70s & 80s.

IMG_3101 IMG_3108

There is also a small museum presenting emblematic animal life of Svalbard. Unfortunately, many animals were torn apart by a polar bear who sneaked into the museum once in search of food, or companions.

IMG_3112 IMG_3117

I wish I could stay longer in this magic place. After a few hours, I had to return to Longyearbyen with the MS Polargirl ship. On the way back I passed along the glacier, observing seagulls, fulmars and Pyramiden in the sunshine. Cause in early August sun never sets on Svalbard.

IMG_3134 IMG_3151