TOA, Berlin, Tech Open Air, 2017
art, Berlin, events, Life in Berlin, News, people, tech

Berlin’s Tech Open Air Festival 2017

Last week, Berlin’s Tech Open Air (TOA) festival took over the city. Now in its sixth year, TOA is an interdisciplinary festival that brings together technology, music, art and science.

The festival consisted of a two-day conference at Funkhaus Berlin, a sprawling complex along the banks of the River Spree that used to house East Germany’s central radio station, and over 200 satellite events that happened all over the city over four days. This year’s festival was the biggest yet, with over 200 speakers and 20.000 participants.

TOA, Berlin, Tech Open Air, 2017

The festival, a bit like technology itself, was pervasive, and, with conference talks lasting an average of 15 minutes each, mimicked the hectic effect of switching between multiple tabs in a browser. It also came with some of the frustrations of modern tech – the conference app did not work, and men dressed in black talked about how important and life-changing their work was without a hint of irony. For example, Magnus Olsson, founder of Careem, which is basically Uber for the Middle East, talked about the principles he lived by, why Careem was life-defining for him, and its social impact, when really, all the dude had to say was, “It’s Uber for the Middle East.”

It was all a bit like this:


But there were also tons of interesting talks, and key trends this year seemed to be A.I, VR and Fintech.

My personal highlights included Edda Hamar, Founder and CEO of Undress, talking ethics and sustainability in fashion, Prince Fahd Al Saud, who gave an enlightening perspective on the Millennial Middle East – one that challenged the West’s prejudices and perceptions – and spoke about his aims to support and promote women and feminism, and BBC R&D’s Senior Firestarter (yes, that’s his job title) Ian Forrester, who raised some interesting questions about the future of storytelling while demonstrating the prospects of object-based media. Last but not least, Imagining Coordinator Rebecca Roth, who works at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre, presented some mind-blowing and beautiful images of space. All these talks will be available to view on TOA’s YouTube Channel within the following week.

In addition, I got the chance to try out some VR porn, have a drink at the Amano Grand Central’s Rooftop Bar, hosted by Invest Hong Kong, attend a Mobile Industry party at coworking space Rent 24 in Mitte, as well as an Afterwork Jam at start-up community hub The Factory. All in all, a fun, enlightening and diverse festival.

For more information, visit the TOA Berlin website.



Berlin, Germany, News, politics

Five Ways To Help Refugees in Berlin Now

Following on from Sara Chahr­rour’s wonderfully informative 10 ways to Help Refugees in Berlin, I wanted to share the ways I have found most effective.

BerlinEverything feels a bit ad hoc at the moment; there does not seem to be one central point of co-ordination or information, organisations like Start with a Friend aren’t even sending out standard responses to registrations, others, like Give Something Back To Berlin seem to be a little backlogged – although they do have an information evening coming up on the 18th September at Agora, and most emails go answered. I’ve been seeing a lot of How do I Help? posts online, so here’s a list of direct ways to help now.

1. Register at and help out at Rathaus Wilmersdorf

Rathaus Wilmersdorf Notunterkunft has by far the most organised online presence. They have a regularly updated google doc of stuff they need, and a Facebook Page. If you would like to volunteer, just register at and put your name down against a particular time and activity (e.g. sorting donations, translating, distributing food, being a runner, or even providing entertainment if you’re an artist / performer), and turn up. The Fluechtlingsheim Weissensee also uses this service, so there are opportunities to help out there as well.

2. Check out Free Your Stuff Berlin

The Free Your Stuff Berlin Facebook Group has become a hub for people who would like to help, and people seeking help – either in terms of specific things, or help with translating German documents etc. Just yesterday, a nice woman posted that she would be happy to pick up anything people have to donate and drop it off to the nearest station – if you don’t have stuff to give her, you can help her carry out this task.

3. Offer your spare room to a refugee

Refugees Welcome, which helps house refugees in normal homes, is a well-organised scheme that seems to be working well. It is an effective way to help and earn money from your spare room. The Guardian called this the ‘airbnb for refugees’ in a recent article.

4. Donate some stuff

Here are some direct links to what is needed and when / where to give:

The Kreuzberg Hilft List. Only accepting donations from 9th September. Donations can be dropped off at Dieffenbachstraße 15, 10967 Berlin from Tuesday to Friday from 12 to 18:30 clock.

The Willkommen in Westend List. The address is Eschenallee 3, 14050 Berlin.

The Moabit Hilft List: This list also has details of how to donate money, as well as specifics on what they need and where to drop it, and what they need in terms of help (at the moment: people to sort donations and give food from 09.00 – 18.00 and translators from 12.00-20.00)

The Spandau Askanierring List: Information on what is needed in terms of donations and volunteers.

The Lichtenberg List: What they need, and where to give it.

The Marzahn / Blumberger Damm List: What they need /address, or check out Willkommen in Marzahn on Facebook.

The Wedding Hilft List. What they need, where to give it.

5. Share these articles

Many people want to help but have no idea how. Use social media to share articles like this, the previously mentioned 10 Ways You Can Help Refugees in Berlin, The Local’s 5 Ways You Can Help Refugees in Germany and The Independent’s Five Practical Ways You Can Help Refugees Trying to Find Safety in Europe.

If anyone out there has more practical information on how to help or if you are a refugee / organisation that needs help, feel free to leave a comment, or contact me.

art, Berlin, Germany, history, Life in Berlin, News, politics

The Bode Museum marks the 70th Anniversary of End of World War Two

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War Two. To celebrate, Russia staged its biggest military parade, involving thousands of troops marching across the Red Square in Moscow, displays of ballistic missiles and over 100 war planes.

Here’s a clip of what it looked like:

While such scenes of nationalistic machismo, mirroring those that led up to the second world war in the first place, are clichéd and shallow, here, in a quiet corner of Berlin’s Bode Museum, a much smaller display makes for a deeper impact.

The Lost Museum Exhibition is about the hundreds of art works from the Berlin collections that went missing, were stolen or destroyed, due to the second world war. It consists of partly destroyed works, reconstructed pieces, photographic reproductions and information about the lost works.

The partly charred or smashed statues are devastating to see, but worse are the black and white photographic reproductions of paintings, like this Rubens:

photographic reproduction of lost Rubens at Bode Museum, BerlinA masterwork like this, drained of the colour and brushstrokes that bring Rubens’ paintings to life with fleshy sensuality, makes one feel the absence of the original even more.

IMG_20150510_140410Other stand out pieces, like this plaster cast of Donatello’s John the Baptist – the original has disappeared – demonstrate the value of such a restitution project as it reintroduces the piece to the narrative of art history.

The exhibition also raises interesting questions about itself. For example, should the few remaining fragments of works that survived the Friedrichshain Bunker fire be reconstructed, taking the artists’ original visions and intentions into mind? Or should, according to the standards of historic preservation, any change in the state of a work of art be respected? In short, is it more important to show the original idea of a work of art, or its history?

The exhibition is insightful and questioning and, on a positive note, is possible due to the ongoing and ever-strengthening collaboration between German and Russian museum professionals.

What remains though is the feeling of loss for all those hundreds of works that have vanished. It is a loss to civilisation. A fissure in art history. The visions and spirits of the people that lived in those works, forever lost.

The Lost Museum: The Berlin Sculpture and Paintings Collections 70 Years After World War II is on at the Bode-Museum until 27th September 2015.

Berlin, Germany, history, Life in Berlin, News, politics


Icky as it is, I’m going to have to touch the whole Pegida thing because I saw this BBC video yesterday, and it’s been bugging me ever since.

Unless you’ve been living in a vacuum for the last few months, you’ll know that Pegida, which stands for Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West (so wordy!), is a new movement that has been holding weekly marches in major German cities.

The group claims not to be racist or xenophobic, but like all “I’m not a racist but…” statements, there’s nothing not-racist about it.

Surprisingly, many people have turned out in support of Pegida. On Monday, about 18.000 people took to the streets of Dresden, while around 4,000 people joined a counter-demonstration. The group has not been as successful in other cities such as Berlin, where Pegida opponents outnumbered supporters.

The first guy in the video was predictable; “Germany for Germans” is a phrase you’d expect to hear at one of these things, along with the ‘no mosques’ stuff. Of course, he neglected to tackle details like how exactly one defines a German. Is it a race? What if you are of Vietnamese origin but have a German passport? What if you German but have converted to Islam? What if you are Turkish but support Germany in the World Cup? And what about that CDU politician who does a good job of pretending to be German, but with a name like David McAllister, has to be Scottish?

And what happens when all the non-Germans leave? The country would shrivel up and die – literally. Germany’s aging population means that the meagre working population would collapse trying to support all the pensioners. In fact, immigration is the only sensible way out of this problem. And what about Germans elsewhere? You can’t swing a cat in London without hitting one – should we gather them up and send them, kicking and screaming, back to the Fatherland?

I recently visited The British Museum’s Germany: Memories of a Nation exhibition (visited by Merkel today), which illustrates that defining Germany is a shifty business too. The German Nation was originally an idea, consisting of many different territories and peoples, ranging from Austria and the Czech Republic to parts of Romania. Clearly, the mapped boundaries of Germany were questionable to Hitler, who figured that Poland was part of German territory. By reverse logic, should Germany accept Polish, Czech and Romanian immigrants?

And about the mosques – should the constitution upon which modern Germany is founded, which guarantees freedom of religion and freedom from religious discrimination, be re-written? Anyway, I’m sure the nice man has thought it all through. He’s grand. What stunned me was the woman talking about her four daughters with long blonde hair.

It reminded me of a propaganda photograph I saw at the Topographie des Terror in which a Jewish man who had a Christian girlfriend was forced to hold a sign saying he raped a Christian girl.

The idea of the purity of one’s women being polluted by outsiders is a primitive narrative. It is the oldest fear-mongering tactic in the book. It was used in the United States to justify lynchings in the South and now, in Germany, it is toppling out of an articulate woman’s mouth – without any shame or awareness of what she is actually saying.

So why the rise of Pegida? It could be down to timing; Germany’ s recent intake of more immigrants than ever before coupled with sufficient time passing since the war might mean that people no longer feel there is a stigma attached to marching in the streets, waving German flags and expressing such views.

In theory, the Germany was supposed to be ‘de-Nazified’ after the war, but a look at Topographie des Terror exhibition demonstrates that this was not the case; judges, politicians, and civil servants remained in their positions for the most part, and there was a real reluctance to dig up the past and prosecute war criminals.

Now, these buried views appear to be resurfacing. Pegida is attracting a mix of people of all ages, from right-wing activists to ‘normal’ citizens, and a recent poll of just over 1,000 people by Stern magazine found that one in eight Germans would join an anti-Islam march if Pegida organised one near their home.

What do you think about Germany’s Pegida phenomenon?

Berlin, Germany, history, Life in Berlin, News

Fall of the Berlin Wall Celebrations at Potsdamer Platz

Last night marked the 25th Anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. To celebrate, 8000 lit balloons on 3.6m poles, match the height of the wall, were released into the night sky.

The balloons were released one by one along a 15 km stretch that followed the dividing line of the wall, symbolising the breaching of the wall by protestors.

Here are some photos of the event from Potsdamer Platz:






Find out more about the celebrations marking the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall at Visit Berlin.

art, Berlin, Life in Berlin, News

TEDxBerlin: City 2.0

In 2008, the number of people living in cities surpassed those living in rural areas, and that number is set to rise. So what does this mean for cities? What will the city of the future look like? What will Berlin be like? These questions brought designers, architects, engineers and artists together for this year’s TedxBerlin Conference.

tedx berlin posterThe conference took place at the ICC, one of the world’s largest conference centres, in West Berlin, coinciding with consumer electronics trade fair IFA, where products like 3-D pens and Samsung’s new smartwatch were being showcased. The centre was built as a modern vision of the future, but as with most 70s constructions, it’s ugly – and due to be torn down next year, providing an apt caveat for attempts to predict the future…

David Owen, author of Green Metropolis and staff writer at The New Yorker, nodded to this lesson by saying that the best urban planning ideas (and ideas in general) came about by accident. New York, for example, due to geography and chance, grew upwards, instead of sprawling outwards, resulting in the greenest city in the U.S.

New York boasts the lowest per capita energy consumption, lowest per capita waste production,  lowest rate of automobile ownership and the only significant transit users in the country. This is due to density, which results in smaller living spaces, less consumption, and walking or public transport becoming the main way of getting around.

trabiOwen proffers that congestion is great for the environment and that he finally ended his quest to find the world’s greenest vehicle in Berlin upon seeing the Trabi. The old DDR car was uncomfortable, didn’t work very well and frequently had to be pushed. What better way to deter people from driving cars than making it difficult? Cities, according to Owen, are the environmental future, not the environmental problem.

This idea was reiterated by Zhang Yue, Champions of the Earth Winner and one of the main people behind this incredible project:

There has been much talk about the cost, speed of construction and height of this building, which will become the tallest in the world when it is completed next year. Most significantly though, this building will contain an entire city; schools, shops, offices – everything a society needs, apart from a crematorium. A ramp will enable cyclists and drivers to travel right up to the 202nd floor, although of course, Yue has envisioned a city in which everything is accessible by foot.

Clearly, cities in China cannot keep sprawling, and the old model of having living quarters in one area and commercial or industrial districts in another, is unsustainable. If China continues at its current pace, it will soon have as many cars per capita as the U.S – that’s one billion cars – and the planet will be ruined. In addition to reducing air pollution, this building will be well-insulated, have quadruple-glazed windows, and be six times more energy-efficient than the average building.

Pollution seemed to be a pervading concern. An oft-quoted statistic was from the World Health Organisation, stating that air pollution kills more people per year than AIDS and malaria combined.

One brilliant solution referred to by several speakers was titanium dioxide. It’s used to make Skittles and M&Ms hard but more to the point, it absorbs air pollution. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as covering everything in M&Ms as Berlin-based architect Allison Dring highlighted during her presentation about her work producing 3D modules from the material for the facade of hospital Torre de Especialidades in Mexico City:

It seems that architects will have an increasingly scientific dimension to their work in the future.

In general, there appears to be a blurring of boundaries between the work of architects, engineers, artists and designers. Take the brilliant installation art of Tomás Saraceno:


It is a combination of architecture, science and art. In his series creating 3D spider webs, he even found himself being quoted in scientific papers, although he is not a scientist.

Similarly, the awesome robotic scKolja Kuglerulptures of Berlin-based artist Kolja Kugler, created from junk and scraps, are a combination of art and engineering, although he is no engineer.

In the early 90s, Kugler collaborated with The Mutoid Waste Company, creating guerilla art out of leftover military equipment – including a Mig 21 fighter plane – in the wasteland that was Potsdamer Platz.

Kugler, who once wanted to be a zoologist, demonstrated how he sees natural shapes in man-made objects, and how chance plays a role in his work. He emphasised the importance of making good machines that reflect nature.

Indeed, art is an important part of the city. Cultural advisor Michael Schindheim recently worked on plans for Hong Kong’s West Kowloon Cultural District, made to address the fact that, for such a major city, it lacks a strong cultural identity. Berlin seems to have the opposite dynamic; we are rich with art, but not industry.

So what is it about Berlin that fosters creativity? James Patten, involved in projects such as the Gravity Harp for Bjork, Chicago Museum of Science and Industry’s interactive periodic table, and my favorite, the Barista Bot, which draws your portrait on your caffè latte, provided illumination. While working at The Metropolitan Exchange in New York, he pinpointed several optimal conditions for creativity; having a half-finished space – or a space that feels like it’s in progress – to work in, having a mix of random objects at hand to play with, and having a range of people from all disciplines who share a vision and are willing to muck in. Berlin ticks all of these boxes (as Kugler’s work demonstrates).

Overall, Berlin came out pretty well as a city. Due to Kiez culture, everything we need accessible by foot, resulting in a relatively green city (we could do better with energy efficiency, for example, by insulating old buildings and using LED lights).

There is a wealth of community-based, down-up projects, like the mini-gardens that have been cultivated around trees by the residents of Oderbergerstrasse in Prenzlauer Berg. This trend is set to grow; Priya Prakash is keen to roll out Changify in this city, although we still have a long way to go before we catch up with the Mayor of Seoul, who has installed a giant ear in his city that transmits the public’s complaints directly to city hall. The boundaries between people and governments are also set to blur through increased use of social media and technology.

We have the Flussbad to look forward to, which means that we might soon see people swimming around in the river near Museums Insel:

Berlin has great potential due to its abundance of unused space, and space that can be creatively re-purposed. Merkel’s recent pledge to make Germany nuclear power free also creates opportunities to use more renewable energy and rely on energy loops (waste from one thing being used as food for another).

Two significant talks drew our attention to those people in places not as fortunate as us. Writer and film-maker Lina Hadsbjerg focussed on the lives of refugees living in the inner city of Johannesburg, South Africa. I’d be interested in watching her documentary Into the Shadows to find out more:

On a similar note, photographer Alessandro Grassani presented his photos of environmental immigrants in Bangladesh and Mongolia. In 40 years, every 1 in 45 people will be an environmental migrant; 90% of these will be from the poorest countries, and as is often the case, the problem will affect the world’s poorest people.

The message is clear – cities are getting better, but there are still many growing challenges that need to be addressed.

If you’d like to watch any of the talks mentioned or find out more, visit the TedxBerlin website.