Berlin state of mind

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Berlin is depressing.

Let me explain.

I love this town – it’s one of the fastest moving, historic-yet-modern places in Europe, filled with go-getters, artists, politicians and… well, tourists. Yet it’s a pretty depressing place. Maybe because when you think Germany, you think order-to-the-ruler. Nothing as much as an inch out of place. Everything perfectly fitted and to the point.Berlin_001

Berlin will blow your mind. I’ve managed to visit this place three times during my many trips, yet I can’t say that I fully understand this place. It makes you feel at home instantly, while never really being homey. Architecture is all over the place, the mixing of old, new, borrowed and blue (actually, mostly gray) makes one think there are no city planners employed. Graffiti is everywhere graffiti even covers the most famous graffiti in the wall, the East Side Gallery.

Berlin is high fashion and homeless people. Old history and modern strive. A melting pot of architecture, style, people. You will find everything here, yet nothing really fits.

Last time I visited Berlin was for the amazing Startup Weekend Berlin, an entrepreneurial event that pulls participants from all over the world. It’s no surprise, as Berlin is one of the foremost entrepreneurial hubs in Europe – it’s home to countless incubators, accelerators and startup spaces. If you are looking for venture capital, business angels or just plain and simply network and guidance, Berlin is the right place to be. And with two international airports in close proximity (in good conditions, you get from Alexanderplatz to Tegel in 30 min or less – but it’s almost always rush-hour in Berlin), you literary have the world at the palm of your hand.

Berlin_009If you are here to explore, Berlin has a lot to offer. Must see’s include the East Side Gallery, with the remains of the Berlin Wall, that once divided Berlin onto East and West Berlin – even though the entire city of Berlin geographically was located in East Germany. East Side Gallery is an international memorial of freedom and consists of about 150-something paintings by international artists, depicting the times of change. Today, badly vandalized by graffiti (oh, the irony) and erosion, it’s one of the memorials that might not be around for generations to come to visit.Berlin_002

Being the capital of Germany, Berlin offers a lot of official buildings. Amongst those worth one extra glance is the Reichstag – dating back to 1894, it once hosted Nazi Germany Reichstag (Parliament), and it now seat of the Bundestag.Berlin_003

For those that are into art and always chase the next museum to visit, Berlin wont disappoint. With a museum island to boast, amongst others, where five of the Berliner museums are located, it’s worth a visit. Especially if you, like me, happen to drop by this city on a rainy day. Also worth mentioning is the UNESCO world heritage stamp this place holds!

The Altes Museum from 1830 holds the Berlin antiques. Neues Museum, as name indicates, is slightly younger, dating back “only” to 1843, when construction was begun. Holding the Egyptian collections, amongst others the bust of Nefertiti, it’s a definite must-see.

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The Alte Nationalgalerie is Berlins foremost art gallery, offering everything from Neoclassical, through Romantic, Biedermeier and Impressionist to early Modernist artwork. The exterior, in Greco-Roman style, is extra amazing during sunset and early night, when it’s artistically lit up.

Berlin_005The Bode Museum, across the street from Alte Nationalgalerie, and home of the famous Flora Bust, is also home of Byzantine collections, sculptures and an exceptional numismatic collection. Being one of the youngest addition to the Museum Island, dating back to 1904, the architecture of Bode Museum is a colossus in baroque style.

Finally, the Pergamon Museum, the youngest structure, finished 1930, is famous for its antiquity-, the Middle East- and Islamic art collections. Visited by approximately 1,2 million visitors a year, it’s the most visited museum in Germany.

Berlin is another very walkable city – from Alexanderplatz to Branderburger Tor it’s only about 4km and there’s pedestrian-friendly options that offer a lot to see on your walk. Starting by the World Clock at Alexanderplatz, you can easily end up seeing TV Tower, the Humbolt University and the Museum Island on your way over to Brandenburger Tor.

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If you turn southeast, towards Spree, you will catch the site of the Memorial of the Murdered Jews of Europe, Bundesrat and Checkpoint Charlie before walking through Kreuzberg, crossing the Spree at Oberbaumbrücke at heading northwest towards the East Side Gallery.

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The gothic Overbaum Bridge links the neighborhoods of Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg and was formerly divided by the Berlin Wall – understandably, today it’s a memorial of unity. Notable features is the double-deck, with the U-bahn being carried by the upper deck, while cars and pedestrians are referred to the lower deck. Watching Spree in the southeast direction from the bridge, you will see the Molecule Man at the Treptow business district, one of Berlin’s most modern and newest districts. The Molecule Man, a 30-meter tall metal sculpture, standing seemingly at the surface of the Spree, is one of many metal sculptures by Jonathan Borofsky, spread across the world. In Berlin, the Molecule Man is said to represent the three districts of Treptow, Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain.

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Berlin is a very gray city. Despite being covered in graffiti – Berlin is quite infamous for it’s graffiti – that spices up the city walls, for better or worse. Berlin seems weighted down by history, the gray sky on cloudy days adding to the dark aura of the city. There is so much to see and do here, it’s surprising how heavy one feels.

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Shopping in Berlin, on the other hand, is excellent. Kiko and Rossmann can be found everywhere, and clothing stores compete for your time and money. If you are into touristic brick-a-brack, take a stroll down Unter den Linden at you’ll find an abundance of souvenir shops on either side of the wide street. Bring home a piece of the Berlin Wall (okay, I might be nostalgic, but you’ll never catch me paying for a [non precious] rock of doubtful origin) or a Berliner Baer.

Hardcore shoppers shouldn’t miss KaDeWe (Kaufhaus des Westens), a 60,000 square meter shopping area and 50,000 visitors a day, this is the largest department store in continental Europe, and also one of the oldest, dating back to 1905.

Alexanderplatz offers amazing shopping for those with slightly smaller budgets – shopping malls compete for limited space, and as so much else in Berlin, are built on height. You will lose a lot of time and money before you feel done here…Misia_im_Berlin

Will I be back in Berlin? Not as a tourist. Maybe for work, considering that entrepreneurship is my forte, and this is the European Sillicon Valley. One day in Berlin is quite enough, unless you have a job, or meetings to attend. Germany has so much more to offer, so unless you are hardcore WWII-fan, skip Berlin and spend your money on one of the other, amazing, German cities instead…

 

 

Furious Fogo

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Fogo_005In 1995, the volcano at the small island of Fogo, in Cabo Verde, erupted. Although nobody was killed in the eruption, the activity of the volcano, that’s been known to smoke on and off, is a certain. Yet, here I am, lilac ballerina shoes stained by the black magma and soot that’s covering this island.

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Visiting Fogo is like visiting a completely different planet. This island is one of 10 islands belonging to Cabo Verde, and essentially also the highest peak of the island nation – rising 2,829 meters above sea level (9,281 ft). As you fly over the island, all you see is the black core, green patches of cultivated land and a small, sandy beach lining.

The eruption in 1995, spanning April till May, covered most of the island in black soot. The ash clouds during the eruption was said to reach up to 5km high.

20 people had to seek medical help – but nobody was killed.

Taking the tiny minivan from the airport, up towards the active crater of the volcano, I can’t help but to wonder if maybe I am suffering sunstroke. It’s an active volcano. The minibus travels at an approximate speed of about 25km/h, struggling up the winding roads. During an eruption, lava travels at an approximate speed of up to 700km/h downhill. I can outrun the minivan, if I have to, but there is no way I can outrun the lava…Fogo_003

“These are the houses that the German government supplied the eruption victims with in 1995” the guide tells me as we drive past shells of houses somewhere half way up the volcano, in a still green patch of the island. His skin is dark and perfect, his teeth bright white, and he keeps flashing them undisturbed. “They were occupied for about three months before being abandoned for shelters in the crater…”

I watch the landscape turn into a black moon-esque landscape while pondering over the fact that the Fogo’ans actively chose to move right back into the crater so soon after the eruption, even though they had been provided with housing at a safer distance… maybe there’s a draw, an unexplainable appeal of the crater, that I am yet to discover?

We stop for photo opportunities. Climbing out of the car, I gaze down the winding road we had spent a good couple of hours traveling upward on, realizing how far from the airport we have gotten. How the climate has changed. From a beautiful, lush airport setting, slowly through more and more barren land, up to this. The solidified magma bares witness to the latest, but not only eruption.

Fogo_002Tiny houses, black round walls and white roofs, come into sight. A village. There’s a church, a school, local shops – everything a small village needs. Even a restaurant for visitors.

“Those telephone posts I keep seeing…?” I ask.

“Oh, no, those aren’t telephone posts. That’s the alarm system! If this baby erupts, we’ll be warned! Not like last time…” the guide joyfully declares. He sees apparently no problems at all, so I decide an island full of people can’t be wrong – there’s nothing to be scared of! So what, if there’s a bit of smoke coming out of the crater… and that it’s so hot, you really have to keep moving, because if you stand still, your feet will start aching…?

FogoI have lunch – later I find out it was grilled goat’s testicles, amongst others, that I had been served. They actually tasted good. A bit chewy. More photo-ops. The guide shows me to a local winery – yes, they produce Fogo-wine, which in itself is an oxymoron. I take a look around the small winery – and honest to God, I can’t see one single vine as far as my eyes can see… but the wine tastes good, the winery offers shade and a new experience.

I see trees and flowers with apparent strong survival skills here and there. Happy children playing in a barren land. Smiling people waving as another stupid tourist drives by in a beaten, old minivan. I turn my face up, let the sun caress my cheeks, close my eyes and inhale. The air smells saturated, warm, but friendly. There’s a distinct smell I can’t really make out. Maybe that’s what contentment with life smells like?

Fogo_007Back to civilization, at the small town close to the airport, I see colorful houses, local shops, hole-in-the-wall cafés and restaurants and the black volcanic beach with very strong currents. Cars, music, high schoolers. Business as usual.

Eyes directed to the sky, shielded by my hand, I watch the peak of Pico de Fogo, where I just had an amazing afternoon. It wasn’t that bad – especially now, in retrospect, with my lilac ballerina shoes back on firm asphalt.

You can take the girl out of the asphalt jungle, but you can never take the asphalt jungle out of the girl! I have to admit, it was fun, interesting, inspirational and quite exciting, climbing into the crater of an active volcano. Definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Slightly more dangerous than a sale at Neiman Marcus.Fogo_007

 

I finally realize what that distinct smell I felt at the peak was. Personal growth. And it didn’t even hurt… much… 🙂

Magic Madrid

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Map Madryt

I love Spain – it’s one of those countries that always makes you feel at home, no matter where you end up going. Mainland Spain is a bit more authentic, the islands are a bit more touristic, but truth be told, no matter where you go in this beautiful Iberian state, you wont escape the rivers of tourists. Herds of people from all over the world have discovered the fantastic country, located on the Iberian Peninsula!

There are places that capture magic and make you feel quite unique, though. Madrid is definitely one of them. If you love Barcelona – kudos, it an amazing city! – but you obviously haven’t been to Madrid yet! Whereas Barcelona, mentioned by many as their favorite spot in Spain, is a fast paced, hip town aimed at fast living, Madrid is it’s calmer, more elegant and grown up cousin. This metropolis, home of 3,3 million people in the inner city, and approximately 6,5 million in the city and surrounding areas, feels like a small town. It’s calm. It’s elegant. It’s has everything to offer the right person.

If Barcelona is a fashionable, 20-something party girl, Madrid is the 30-something business woman. Calm, fully aware of her self-worth, beautiful and diverse.

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Madrid, being the capital of Spain, is packed with policemen (and the way they look, you wouldn’t mind them playing with their handcuffs around you) and guards, so wherever you go, you feel utterly safe. Being one of the highest capitols in Europe, you always get a mild breeze, even during hot summer days. It feels like you’re right on the ocean bank, even though it’s a little shy of 400km to the nearest ocean beach.

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Although being a large metropolitan area, covering 604,3km2 (Madrid is the third largest city in the European Union, coming short only to London and Paris), Madrid is a very walkable city. Or maybe I’m just a walker – but if you don’t mind trekking miles through the urban jungle, I fullheartedly recommend strapping on your walking shoes and explore the city street by street. There are excellent Hop-on-Hop-Off alternatives for those that prefer to roll by the city life. Either way to chose to see the city, one tip is to look up – the architecture is amazing, and rooftops in the city truly take your breath away!

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If you are looking for good museums, a must-see here is the Prado. Located along the Paseo del Prado, in the Golden Triangle of Art, it’s easy access to Reina Sofia and the Thyssen-Bornemisza as well. Museo de Prado, being the national gallery in Madrid, offers such amazing gems as “The Cardinal” by Raphael, Table of the Seven Deadly Sins by Bosch or “The Three Graces” by Rubens. Of course, there’s a lot El Greco, Goya, Velázquez or Titian that should not be missed – for those that love art, a couple good hours will easily be spent here.

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The Prado is divided onto different wings for different geographical- and time periods. For instance, bottom floor is majorly occupied by Spanish painters anno 1100-1910, while Italian painters 1450-1800 are mostly located one story up. Grab a plan of the museum at the ground floor information desk (available in different languages) and get a full map of the museum, with references to where the most famous paintings are located – so if you don’t have as much time here as you might have wanted, at least you wont miss out on the gems!

The Reina Sofia (actually; Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía) displays a more modern take on art – here you get the full spectrum of Dalí, Francis Bacon, Damien Hirst or Man Ray.

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Don’t miss the Palacio de Cibeles on your culture-walk. Originally Palace of Communication, later the post office, today Placio de Cibeles is the Madrid City Hall. Placed at the very end of Paseo del Prado, hosting a tourist information and shop at the ground floor and several co-working, open spaces for students and entrepreneurs, this palace also offers an amazing, free-of-charge art exhibition on it’s second, third and fourth floor. Slightly more modern, slightly more experimental, brilliant and hip.

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And while you’re at the Palacio de Cibeles, get the €2 ticket to the top-floor elevator, climb the stairs and get out onto the rooftop – the view over Madrid is splendid!

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Another high point in Madrid, offering a breathtaking panorama of the city, is located at the Parque del Oeste. This city park offers shade, outdoor shows of Capoeira, tightrope walkers, an amazing view of Madrid – and the Egyptian temple Templo de Debod. Originally built in Aswan, as the dam was constructed, the Templo (dedicated to goddess Isis) was given to Spain by Egypt as a thank-you gift for the Spanish help in saving the temples in Abu Simbel.

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If you like parks, or need a short breather, a break from the hectic big city life, and Parque del Oestre doesn’t fulfill your need for greenery, there’s Parque del Bueno Retiro, placed slightly behind Museo del Prado. Covering an area of 350 acres (1,4km2) in Madrid, it’s one of the most popular places for tourists and locals alike.

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The park dates back to 1505, where a monastery was located at today’s San Jeronimo el Real Church, right by the edge of the park. The Retiro was later enlarged by King Philip II, and by 1630, it hosted both the Casón del Buen Retiro (today a library) and the military museum Museo del Ejército.

Particularly interesting sights of the park include the Estanque del Retiro – the large, man-made pond with the monument of King Alfonso XII, Fuente del Ángel Caído (fountain of the Fallen Angel) – a fountain by Ricardo Bellver, who was inspired by John Milton’s “Paradise Lost”, The Crystal Palace – built in 1887 and exhibiting the flora and fauna of Philippines.

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Take a walk through the Rosaleda del Retiro, Paseo de la Argentina or Avenida de México and enjoy the clear, crisp air, the birds chirping and the amazing flora and fauna of Spain. Watch out of the peacocks that stroll along the walk pathways!

When in Madrid… you can’t miss the Royal Palace, placed by Placa de Oriente (here’s where you can also find the Opera in Madrid). Palacio Real lies on the site of a 9th century fortress, that hosted a myriad of buildings since. King Philip II moved his court to Madrid in 1561, occupying the Palacio since then, but massive fires in 1734 completely destroyed the palace. The current structure dates back to 1764, with minor adjustments. Admission of €11 is well worth the money – and it’s completely free for Iberian residents!

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Right next to the castle lies the architecturally fantastic Catedral de la Almueda. Originally a mosque, the cathedral was erected primarily in 1083, but it wasn’t till long after the move of the Spanish court to Madrid (1561) that this cathedral became the seat of the catholic church in Spain – the church had maintained mostly in Toledo, and as Spain was home to about 40 cathedrals of that time, it wasn’t till 1879 that the Catedral de la Almueda became primary seat of the Spanish catholic church.

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The neo-gothic interior is uniquely modern and partly clashes, partly compliments the Baroque exterior.

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Shopping and eatery is at it’s best in Madrid – high streets spanning city center and outward offer Kiko, Spanish giant El Corte Inglés (where you can find everything from high-end Carolina Herrera, Michael Kors or Hugo Boss down to local brands), Spanish, internationally famous brands such as; Zara, Oysho, Bershka, Stradivarius or Pull & Bear.

Salamanca Distric offers more upscale shopping, while Gran Vía offers more walet-friendly options os internationally known brands from Spain and other countries. Then there’s flea market at El Rastro – on Sunday’s, this is the place to be! And whether you are into antiques, second hand clothing or baubles, El Rastro offers something for everybody.

Eating in Madrid is a chapter for itself, and deserves a post of it’s own – even though I’m no foodie, I thoroughly enjoyed every single meal this city treated me to!

There’s so much to see and do here, you simply cannot afford to miss Madrid. It’s a city you can see fully in a day, a week, a month or spend years here, still not satisfied you have seen and experienced everything you want to.

I rarely find places that move me to the point that I want to return. It has only happened once – with Krakow – because there’s so much world out there to see, I can’t return to the same place over and over again. But Madrid… I will definitely be back. Often. For a bit longer.

Savage Garden sung “Steel and granite reminders, the city calls your name, and I can’t move on”. Madrid calls my name. I might continue traveling the world, but something tells me this is the place I will always return to…

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Hasta la próxima vez, con amor…

 

 

 

 

What lies beneath

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If you, like me, love to dive, you probably have some favorite, uncompromizable dive spots your heart continues to return to. But, as most avid divers, there’s always room for new experiences beneath the surface. Today, I list three underwater art sites worthy of a deeper glance…

 

Christ of the AbyssDon’t miss the amazing Christ of the Abyss in San Fruttuoso, Italy

Placed at the bottom of the ocean at approximatelly 17 meters depth, originally in 1954, this statue is popular amongst Mediterranean divers. It has also gotten a large amount of Doppelgangers around the world, amongst others in St George, Grenada.

Originally, this bronze statue marked the spot where Dario Gonzatti, the first Italian diver to use SCUBA gear, died in 1947. Iit has been resurfaced for restoration in 2003, and submerged once again for divers to visit since 2004.

 

Cancun underwater museumAnother amazing site is the Cancun underwater museum, off the coast of the Yucatan peninsula, Mexico

Consisting of 400 clay statues, all by Jason deCaires Taylor, placed right between the shore of Cancun and Isla Mujeres, this new addition to the Mexican experience is a must-see. The statues depict different stages of the Mayan development, and cover only about 14m2 area at a depth of about 9 meters, so even first level divers can experience this amazing site.

 

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My first dive ever was in Green Bay, Cyprus. And Cyprus offers so much more than partying 20-somethings – in Green Bay, you can explore ancient amphoraes and a statue park worthy any above-sea-level museum. Perfect for beginners as it’s regarded as “sheltered open water”.

Here’ the main sight are the sunken statues, scattered over an area of about 30 sq meters, at a depth of 10-12 meters. Perfect visibility for up to 45 meters in good weather contionds. Easy land access and plenty parking space adjacent.

 

Not a diver yet? Surf over to PADI, and enroll in a course on your next vacation (you can even do the theory online beforehand)! You will NOT be sorry!

Alluring Alhambra

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As the sun breaks through the thick canopies of the trees surrounding the climb up to the entrance of the majestic Moorish castle of Alhambra, I am struck by the presence of history. It surrounds this quite magical place and oozes in through every pore.

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Although it’s early in the day, it’s already littered with tourist, being the foremost reason people visit the Granada region. Alhambra stand proud at an altitude of 738 meter above sea level, looking out over the sprawling city beneath it. Built in the 9th century for Moorish emirs of the Nasrid dynasty and taken over by the Reyes Catholica in 1492, this palace is breathtaking.

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The Alhambra outer walls span 800 meters, surrounding the unorthodox layout of the castle. Unorthodox perhaps because Alhambra was originally a smaller castle, which has grown exponentially through random add-on’s. The castle is richly decorated according to the Moorish standards of the 9th-11th century – architectural details, such as mosaics or lime stone carvings, can be found literary everywhere but the floors: due to the exceptionally large amount of visitors, no part of the site has remained it original flooring. Only place to see original floor tiles is at the center of the throne room, where relatively unharmed edge-pieces from all over the castle have been gathered into a sort-of mosaic, bordered by ropes to remain unharmed.

The view over Granada, from any one of the many patios and balconies, is purely breathtaking. The small, hidden-away gardens, encapsulated by palace walls offer a welcome breather – moments in time to just exist, breathe and marvel over the beauty of life.

 

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If you enjoy the splendor of nature, the garden following the palace will make your heart sing for joy – an abundance of flowers, plants and trees create a leafy, shadowy oasis in the hot spring sun, filling the air with an amazing cacophony of fragrances. Home of amongst others about 40 sorts of figs, this garden segways over to the neighboring structure of Generalife.

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Generalife was built at the summer residence for the Nasrid dynasty, and serves today as lush gardens for visitors, as well as offering the best panoramic view over Alhambra from one of its plateaus.

Focal point is the Patio de la Acequia, or the Water-Garden Courtyard, with the main channel and spring fountains, bordered by flowerbeds and shrubbery, famously the best preserved Persian garden in Al-Andalus (Muslim Spain). It must, however, be remembered that the current gardens tourists get to visit, don’t date back to Moorish times – instead, they were completed between 1931 and 1951, by Francisco Prieto Moreno.

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