— Nina Mehta

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The easiest way to meet up with a friend is for a coffee, beer, lunch, or dinner. Here’s a list of alternatives outside the house I have actually done when I feel sober, full, and cheap. And really, if you’re in good company even shopping for carpet will be fun! So also checkout the sf.funcheap guide.

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San Francisco Botanical Garden

This is not the Butterfly Conservatory in Golden Gate Park. It’s a huge garden with plants from Chile, South Africa, a bamboo forest, and a delicious sensory garden where you touch and smell the most wonderful plants. It’s free for SF residents with ID and a really nice relaxing walk.

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Play 50c games at the Brewcade

Hey children of the 90s, this jam is for you! Arcade games are about 50 cents and pretty fun if you’re looking to hang and do something more casual. Plus you can make Michael Jackson moonwalk again. Like Tutu Tuesday it will require some self control to avoid having a beer, it is the Brewcade after all. But if you’re hungry for Tacos, do not go to Hecho next door. Not tasty. But El Castellito around the corner on Church is my go-to spot and I think has a Taco Tuesday special.

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James Turrell Skygarden

One of my favorite indoor San Francisco views is hidden on the 12th floor of the Federal Building on Seventh and Mission. It’s free to enter but you must show a legal ID and go through a metal detector. Unfortunately it’s only open from 9am to 3pm Monday-Friday. But if you work in Soma it’s an awesome place for one-on-ones and rarely crowded. Here’s a great self-guided tour of the place including history on the elevators, architecture, and beautiful art in the basement.

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Dollar Days at the Golden Gate Fields

Horse Racing isn’t first on my list either. But it’s actually really fun and kid friendly. I love this activity because you don’t really have to pay attention but can if you want. The races are short enough that you can get engaged for a few races then wander off and see the horses, get a dollar beer, dollar hot dog, or get distracted hanging out. If you might drink the beers, please take the bus or an uber there.

Hot tubs and yoga

The SF Fitness Fillmore location has a hot tub! If you and your homies have membership there it’s a nice free alternative when you don’t want an entire day at Banya. Here’s the cheap yoga in SF but you can’t really chat during yoga so it’s not a great option.

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Flora Grubb Garden

This is a truly incredible flower nursery. The plants are very tempting to buy and way beyond my personal price range which makes it easy. I generally wouldn’t recommend hanging around in a shop if you don’t plan to buy. This is one of my exceptions. And if do want a coffee, there’s  Ritual Roasters in there.

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Visit the Parks

I can’t not mention the parks, there are infinite choices here. Dolores Park is an obvious choice. Sometimes I bring my Doodles coloring book which is a easy alternative to an accidental $50 BiRite picnic. Duboce Park is great if you want to watch some cute pups. I love Twin Peaks on a sunny day and Corona Heights at night on an evening with a bright moon. Of course you can visit one of the many beautiful ocean-side spots like Fort Funston, Ocean Beach, Sutro Baths, walk the Labyrinth and even the Embarcadero. There are enough guides to parks and nature in San Francsico. This is not that!

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Tutu Tuesday

Hosted on the second Tuesday of the month at Harlot SF in Soma is the cutest party with great Deep House in San Francisco. It’s $2 entry with a Tutu. The sparkling waters are free, hydrating, and come in the same glasses as cocktails so no one bugs you about not having a drink 🙂 But be sure to tip your bartender for the effort!

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Free Museum Days

Special exhibits are usually at a discount and most spots are free the first Tuesday or Thursday of the month. The Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in Soma has a beautiful well lit lobby with nice seating where you can bring your lunch or sit and talk for quite some time undisturbed. The Asian Art Museum is $5 every Thursday after 5pm. It’s a cool under the radar spot.

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I came to Berlin with 4 things on my mind and now with some resolution.

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Do I want my next job to be running a design team?
The answer for me is no. Well. Not yet.

Hiring, shaping, and leading the Pivotal Labs Berlin design team is one of my brightest professional accomplishments. I wanted a highly talented team with diverse skills that compliment each other. I fantasized about a collaborative, caring, and resilient team that has fun doing great work far beyond my time. I loved unblocking my people and nurturing their strengths to become their best design self and started a related writing collection called The Ligature. When I look to my design mentors, I know the next step for me is to return making, designing, and doing great work.

 

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What can I discover about myself as an artist?
The darkness of winter makes Berlin such a wonderful canvas for light artists. It’s the perfect landscape for the kinds of galleries, installations, and types of spaces I love. I visited old power plants, dilapidated breweries, and other vacant spaces. Spending more time with these kinds of installations and and artists helped me give new shape to my perspective as a participant and creator.

Living somewhere new also gave me so much to write about. For nine months, every Saturday I wrote and posted something here. Though, the readership was sometimes an audience of one, I have a more intimate connection with my internal and written voice.

And finally living alone deeply changed my morning and evening rituals. Unexpectedly, my yoga and painting practice became intertwined. I deep dived into the original texts from the Bauhaus School teachers and specific yoga practices and started my Bauhaus Yoga collection a medium. Nurturing these two practices together brought me a intimate connection to my mind and body as they relate to my creative and sensual self.

 

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What can I learn from the minimalists?
This one is quite simple. I wanted to live, breath, and immerse in the home of minimalist architecture and design I wanted to see it show up in my design work, home, mindset, and way of solving problems. I sold nearly everything I owned when I came to Berlin and I’m going home with half that. I want even more of less.

Where is home?
My stylist told me it takes a year, a bike, and a breakup before you’re ready to really live in Berlin. He’s right. I surprised even myself when I felt called back to San Francisco: to my family, a place I understand, and where I can have an impact. But, I’m leaving a suitcase here.

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Summer has passed which means at least a third of San Francisco’s nomads have wandered though Berlin. The two cities are obvious matches for one another: both with their own versions of alternative lifestyles, young spirits, immigrants, and deeply complex socio-political issues.
Bay Area techies and house heads love coming to this cheap, spacious, creative, more underground, concrete version of San Francisco. Berliners regularly seem charmed by the optimistic dreamers and coastal views.

“When the wall came down, everything became possible.” That’s what native Berliners tell me about the magic of the German capital.

And it’s that very ideal seems to draw Gold Rushers to Berlin: possibility. I’m curious how many will stay. San Francisco used to offer creative, expressive, grand possibilities. Almost anyone could try on a new religion, new style, new sexuality, new job, new politic, new beliefs. The city would celebrate whoever you want to be this year, this day, this hour, and it didn’t matter how much money you had.

Silicon Valley looms over San Francisco like the evening fog. If you’re unprepared, you’ll be left shivering in Dolores Park. Even if you can pull off living in SF economically (hello rent control!) and will put up with smelly streets and sloppy public transit, the new rich culture makes many other city charms, that possibility thing I was talking about, much more difficult.

Which brings us back to Berlin. It’s an incredible place for San Franciscans to take a holiday. But living here is not so easy. We are not so patient with inconveniences. Rules, paperwork, structure, and formalities. Learning German is difficult but I believe is necessarily if you will actually LIVE here. If you’re not white, some things just won’t come easy. Most of you probably read my racism post and a lot of you disagreed so let’s not get too deep into that here.

Several of my German friends have sadly left this city because they couldn’t find a work. People in my demographic want to live here but the money and jobs are in Munich and Frankfurt. Good work seems to be hard to find in Berlin.

There is a tech scene here but VCs seem hesitant to take leaps on innovative concepts and practitioners are only now starting to get permission to do user research. And I hear my German startup friends complaining about legal barriers. It’s hard to launch in Germany! Techies need to ship. Things get pretty rough if you can’t move fast and break things.

I love Berlin. I love it so much. I think I’ll live here again someday. But despite all the problems in San Francisco, I haven’t found another city that has both a fetish for fetishes and Redwood trees on demand

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Sweeping ocean views and charming winding roads draw people from around the world to the Amalfi Coast. However, if you live in California this is a place you can skip.
It’s obvious there was a time this Coastal paradise was a hidden gem. But it’s now discovered and congested with lost tourists, smoggy busses, and high prices.

No question, my friend, another California resident and I had a great time. But mostly because we had 9 months of life to catch up on–and Amalfi is great for that. It’s also an obvious honeymoon spot since there’s my much to do there but nestle up with a loved one and watch the waves roll in.
Capri is obviously more expensive but equally congested. The times we hung out by the pool or lazed at the beach or our hotel terrace were the highlights.

Surely having a car gives you more flexibility to explore the coastline (like big sur) but among the traffic and motion sick-inducing roads isn’t worth it for me. Amalfi is two hours from Naples and even getting to Capri from the airport requires a ride into town and a ferry. The boat rides for us ended up being more of a hassle than a charm. However, don’t be afraid to go up to the top “first class” deck, there seems to be no difference in tickets.
The food was good, but it wasn’t great. I’ve eaten better in other Italian cities so you’re defiantly going to Amalfi again for the views. Another perk over Big Sur is the temperature and access to beaches.


Though the beaches are rocky not sandy, the water is turquoise clear and refreshing on a hot day. We luckily stayed here during a harvest moon which mean light was always twinkling over the vast ocean.

If you go, here are a few recommendations.

– You need more than a long weekend to slow down your pace here.

– Choose a hotel with a good restaurant and far from Amalfi

– Choose the lemon over chocolate desserts

– Spend a day at the Artisiti Beach. For $40 you can rent two chairs, an umbrella, and get cocktails and a yummy lunch. They have changing rooms and kind people.

– Get an ocean view hotel and wake up for sunrise. Don’t worry, there is plenty of time for naps

– Ignore foursquare, the recommendations didn’t always match the experience 

– There are less expensive places in the world to hang in your hotel with an Ocean View with fewer tourists

– if you do go, enjoy doing nothing fully!

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Most feedback I get about Burning Man in Berlin is:

  • We have a lot of events and places to go inspired/similar to Burning Man
  • I’d really like to go but it’s very far and expensive
  • I go to the regional burns
  • I’ve never heard of it

I was dancing at Berghain the day the man burned and saw a nice young man with playa goggles on his head. As a Bay Area American I really try not to talk about Burning Man especially at festivals and clubs. I’ve found some friends to (rightfully) get defensive about their events because Americans celebrate the desert festival so hard not making much room for other conversations. But in this case, I couldn’t not ask the goggled man if he too was having a little playa moment.

Unfortunately he had no idea what I was talking about. I’m more surprised how far of the the desert art festival has spread in such subtle ways and yet still barely exists.

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I put in a lot of effort in several forums and groups to get a group of Burners together, but no bite. People who had been to the original playa in Nevada.

In the end I had three friends over from very different worlds. We wrote down our new year’s goals, desires, and things to burn away and kept them in our pockets. The wood temple we intended to Burn wasn’t possible so we built our own man from my art supply paper and took it behind the RAW warehouses. In front of a rock statue on a bed of wet sand I lit two incense sticks, dropped in our wishes, drank some red wine from the bottle, and sent up some flames. It was sweet, primal, and intimate.

When Burning Man does come up in Berlin conversations, and sometimes it does, I appreciate the criticism. “Isn’t San Francisco trying to shape the future? How can all those people spend all that money and ignore the homeless? Isn’t it horrible for the environment? Why does it cost so much? Is it a techie networking event? ” The list goes on.

None of these criticisms are new. But in Berlin the criticism stand on their own compared to at home when someone will quickly reaffirm that we should go anyway because it’s; fun. I’m not feeling drawn to return after two years of horrible weather. But this year looked so good. And one week my friends decide to take a vacation at the same time with only the right distractions is temping.

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Escape from the concrete jungle during hot summer days seems to define the season. All winter and spring I heard the long fantasies for long days of light bathing in cool pools. On the hottest days the city empties and you know exactly where everyone has gone.

There are a few small lakes near Berlin but I’m told they’re accessible but dirty.

 

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Caputh Lake Potsdam (West)

This is my favorite lake near Berlin so far. I’m not poster child for hiking and camping so I appreciate when a few services are available on hand. With a 9 Euro entrance fee you can get a beach bed, access to an excellent cocktail bar, a shower, little changing area, and slightly maintained swimming area. There was a bit more a family crowd here but the sand (in and out of the water) was very soft and the children well behaved. There are two routes below but honestly they both felt like a zip because the whole ride is through the trees. There’s one especially good spot to eat nearby, I don’t know the name off the top of my head but I can get it for you. Foursquare kept yelling to me not to eat in the restaurant. I liked the lake because it felt slightly more private, cleaner, and had a little extra care. The mojiots were a dream come true and without planning all the logistics you’ll have time to make a bomb picnic.

 

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for a more local feel..

 

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1:24hr and 34km ride

40min and 12km ride to from Potsdam to Caputh

1:24 hours and a 35km ride

1:24 hours and a 35km ride to Caputh from Potsdam

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Liebnitzsee Lake (North)

This spot north of the city is a favorite to Berliners. It has calm, beautiful trails around, an island for camping, and an overall joyful vibe. A lot of swimmers bring rafts so they can swim from the main lake over to the island that has campers. The island has a tarzan style rope where you can swing off and land into the lake. Too fun. From the nearest train station it’s a 12km bike ride partially on the road and partially among the trees.

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40min and 12km ride to Liptzensee

 

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Flos und Los Boat

Of course some days are not for swimming in which case hopefully you bet on the weather, planned far in advance and rented a boat. Flos Un Los 10er Cabrio + Grill is our favorite ride. Good price, two floors, plenty of room for a sound system, a toilet, covered area, and doesn’t require a driver. It’s a little annoying to get here but that seemed to be the case with all the boat companies near Berlin. From their pickup you can take a very route through the greens or industrial former East Berlin.

And now onto something so obvious you might forget…

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Spreefahrt Tour

The “tour of Berlin” boat tour is an obvious move for parents, but actually I too had a great time. The BWSG Spreefahrt Tour was in English and German which is the first plus. They have drinks and food service and different length tours. The one-hour tour was a bit short for European style relaxing but still good. The pickup is centrally located near Hackershermarkt so you can fit into any kind of tourism you probably have that day. The best part? The tour guide didn’t talk the entire time. There was ample quiet time to enjoy the beautiful scenes of Berlin actually chat with the people you’re with.

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And if you can’t make it on a boat, there’s one more option:

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Badeschiff

Leave it to Berlin to drop a pool in the middle of the Spree. Amongst the waterfront clubs like Club der Visionare, Ipse, and Watergate is this swimming spot. It’s open all day, serves food, drinks, has a beach, and most importantly a pool (overlooking my office). If you can’t or don’t want to do all the planning that comes with a boat, swim in the pool and watch them and the kayakers float by.

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This is a lovely weekend trip if you enjoy drifting through streets enjoying what a city has to offer. Copenhagen is clean, kind, gentle, and smart. It’s known for great food, furniture, fashion, and art.

Eating

Before we go any further, you must have a small plates breakfast at Møller – Kaffe og Køkken in Nørrebrogade. They open at 9am which is a good time to arrive because not surprisingly the lines get long. The eggs are deliciously herby and the hot chocolate is knockout. I recommend only getting the sourdough bread (rather than the sourdough + rye combo). The bacon and dates were rich and wonderful wherease the brie was underwhelming. The avocados weren’t super ripe but I still enjoyed them and the table next door ordered the peppers (Spanish tapas style) which looked amazing. Have fun, indulge, and enjoy!  It was like having some goooood San Francisco-style eating which can be harder to find in some parts of Europe.14046011_10107547648349069_8580490670362602861_n

 

We didn’t try to eat at Noma. But my friend said “Relæ was a standout, get a reservation if you can, oh my god. It honestly was in different ways as memorable as Noma, and way more accessible from a reservation and price point perspective.” Our trip was too short to try but I trust all his food recommendations.

But at some point we stopped looking up recommendations because everything we ate was wonderful and adorable. Also had a tasty (but missable) breakfast at Mirabelle and an incredible cocktail at. Spise\Bar no. 20. A friend told me visit Bagelman if you want a big hearty salad. You can also visit Torvehallerne the which has many little stands for lunch (but not dinner) or get a hot dog in Red Square Park at the food trucks:

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I highly recommend riding a bike, even if just for the day. My friend and I rented these bright orange Donkey Bikes. They have pick ups all over the city and are very soft, smooth, comfortable drives. You’ll instantly feel more local and will spend your energy getting around much better. The taxis are not cheap. They say you don’t need an internet connection (just bluetooth) but my friend had trouble loading the lock and unlock screen sometimes so she would hotspot from my phone just to load the one screen.

Louisiana Museum

Next stop is that you must take a day to go to the Louisiana Museum (especially now that you’ve rented a bike). Take the 45-minute train from the city center to the Humlebæk St. station. Google will suggest all these bus routes, ignore them and take the train. Then it’s a boringish 10-15 minute walk which is why it’s great if you have your bike. It sounds like a schlep but it’s one of the best art museums I’ve been to in the world and it reminded me of a mini Naoshima.

The queue to get into the Louisiana is a bit long so arriving early helps. There are also a few special tickets you can get that lets you jump the queue. Read more about that here. Enjoy the museum, explore, wander, and spend time gazing over the ocean in their sculpture park. My main tip is to make time to visit the Kusama Infinity room. So if you want to take photos in there (which is fun!) plan to go at least twice so can get a little lost in the lights.

 

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Music

We didn’t go to any parties in Copenhagen, but there’s a nice techno community there. The local house heads pointed me to Culture Box and a few other places. We went there to see Louis CK at the Forum. Make sure to check out the lineups because it seems like all kinds of great acts come through the city all the time. We biked on a pier and found a tiny little lounge party that was also a real treat.

Where to stay

We stayed slightly outside (and slightly cheaper in Nørrebrogade. Copenhagen isn’t a huge city so it wasn’t too out of the way and definitely not a big deal with the bike.

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Very sorry to say we also didn’t make it to Christiania but I’m told if you go there and past all the touristic sights there are some interesting houses and more to see. Enjoy!

Wander, enjoy, sit on soft couches, and enjoy all the friendly blonde people!

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I have tickets to four festivals this year but in the end only attended one. Here’s what I’ve learned from my singular experience and what my friends here have shared:

  • People can handle their substances. People don’t seem to binge drink and get zombie messed up on drugs
  • Berliners love being in nature. Living in the concrete jungle draws out a deeper joy and appreciation (and protection from littering) in nature
  • The sound system are tuned. A high percentage of Berliners have a higher bar and expectation for sound quality and it’s met
  • Stages and environmental details have extra care. A lot of personality is brought to details of the aesthetics (stage design, fun notes, good lighting)
  • Food is often healthy and vegan friendly
  • They are more niche. There are more festivals and of different sizes. They’re not racing to become the biggest, baddest, best festival. They joyfully sit inside of their size and grow organically.
  • People sleep! Similar to binge drinking, some people actually rest at night and come back not completely exhausted and drained from the event.

I went to a small festival, I’d rather not advertise which one, but it was wonderful and there was a rainbow!

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The composition of a city is its architecture, politics, food, environment, and of course people. The mid-year churn transforms this city making it hard to determine if it’s summer or winter that is the real Berlin.

Summer draws unending number of tourists while the people living here skip out for their own holidays. The summer vacationers become indistinguishable from the transient semi-residents who pass through Berlin for a few months or years. Berlin’s spirit lifts with the sun and outsiders giving the season an electric feel. Winter however, famously cold and hard, is dear to my heart. It’s a quiet, inward looking season that brings out the direct and matter of fact qualities that make Berlin itself.

Now it’s mid August and not three days have gone by all summer without someone I care about from San Francisco or New York in town. It’s remarkable, surprising, and sometimes challenging as a host. Thankfully as all of us have matured. Friends understand people who live here have a day-to-day life and it’s not always possible to meet. But my biggest insight is that many friends visit Berlin for a week and fantasize about living here and there is a significant difference between holiday and life in  Berlin if you work a professional job: responsibility.

Language, culture, structure, diversity, and commitment are all things that can really change an experience of living versus playing in Berlin.

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There’s no question Brazil and Germany have a long time history together. Brazil is home to the second largest German-Austrian population outside their home countries and Germany saw a huge wave of Brazilians after their economy crashed in the 90s. This matters to me because, well, many people I meet in Berlin think I’m Brazilian. Specifically, men, and usually Germans.

Me in Argentina... kind of near Brazil

Me in Argentina… kind of near Brazil

Of the German men I meet outside mutual friends (e.g. in public, at a party, online) who offer to guess my origin, 80-95% think I’m from Brazil. Turkish, Middle Eastern, African, and Indian men usually correctly guess my origins are Indian. I don’t have enough interactions with men from Eastern Asia to make a guess. And almost no women in Berlin try to guess my origin, usually they ask where I’m from.

I’m also not sure if it’s a commentary on the presence of Brazilians in Germany, Indians in Germany (nearly the same by a rough Wikipedia estimate), how I cary myself, or some other factor.

That being said, hopefully it’s a compliment, it hasn’t gotten in the way of any experiences yet. But it sure is curious. In other news, the Delicia’s, a Brazilian Nail Salon in Friedrichshain is excellent.

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