Stereotypes come to life

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To the American who stood right in front of me at the Fine Art Museum while I was looking at that painting:  just because someone is sitting down doesn’t mean they aren’t looking at the art. 


And thank you for pointing out that the cherubs in that painting, Rubens’s Festival of Venus, are “well-fed.”


UPDATE:  So far fully half of the Americans I have seen have been wearing Teva sandals.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that…


UPDATE 2:  Some dude — I highly doubt it was an American judging from his overall appearance, which included a bald head and two “pirate” earrings — stood right in front of me while I was getting ready to take a picture.  Clearly we aren’t the only rude ones (what was I thinking?). 

Vienna

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Today I arrived in Vienna — it is beautiful here!  There are ornate statues and buildings pretty much everywhere you look.  Probably because it is smaller and more compact, this city shows its history as a former imperial capital much more palpably than other capitals I have been to (e.g., Amsterdam, London, Paris, Berlin).  It is just dripping with 18th and 19th Century wealth. 


And it’s crawling with tourists.  I have already heard Arabic, Swedish, French, Spanish, and of course, English spoken here.


Tomorrow I will be visiting St. Stephen’s cathedral, the State Opera House, the Art History Museum, and (if I still have any stamina) the Hofsburg’s palace in the old city.


Meanwhile, I am staying in a Frau Ildiko’s old apartment building with a spiral marble staircase with an ancient elevator in the middle, super-high ceilings, lots of character, and lots of must.


 

The Song Game

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Just because I’m leaving Berlin doesn’t mean I can’t keep posting about it…


Over the past 5 days we spent a lot of time walking and taking the train.  This led to invention of the song game.  Next time you and a pal are walking along together, you can play too.  Here’s how:


1. One person thinks of a band or singer and says its name.


2. The second person has to sing the very first song of this artist that comes into his head.  The title of the song is irrelevant — it has to be sung.


3. If the second person doesn’t know of any songs of this artists, the first person has the option of naming another band, or making the second person go.


4. Yes, we are nerds!  Shut up!


5. We discovered that with three or more players, the song game becomes a moving karaoke party.


 

Goodbye, Berlin

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Well, tomorrow morning I head out.  Taking the 7:07 train to Regensburg, way down in Bavaria. Melanie is going to pick me up and I’ll be there until Saturday morning.  There will be lots of “traditional Germany” happening there:  beer houses, bratwurst, pastoral hills, ladies in the “St. Pauli Girl” outfit, you get the idea.  I’m told it’s like a different planet compared to Berlin, and I have no doubt that that is true. 


But best of all, it will be really great to see my true friend Melanie’s home state and to meet all these friends of hers I have been hearing about!


Meanwhile, I am sad to leave this amazing, vibrant, pulsating city.  There is so much that I didn’t get to do here, like see all the great art museums here, visit the “Story of Berlin” history exhibit, go to the top of the angel in the Tiergarten, and don’t even get me started on how much more of the nightlife I still want to see. 


But still, I did a lot.  Highlights that I haven’t written about elsewhere include:



Checkpoint Charlie, a checkpoint between the US and Russian zones, and later the most important crossing in the Berlin wall, where US and Russian tanks had a historic faceoff at the beginning of the Cold War.


The Brandenburg Gate, a several-hundred-year-old symbol of German unity — and triumph — that was made inaccessible to all by the Berlin Wall death zone that East Germany set up. 


The Arkadenplatz Market, easily the best flea market I’ve ever been to.  One of the coolest stands was this guy with all these DDR (East Germany) relics.  He had pins with slogans on them, old DDR flags, and similar stuff.  He had been in the East before the wall came down and told us about the role of flags there.  On Independence Day or whatever the national holiday was called there, everyone was supposed to put out a flag.  Each apartment building had one or two designated people who would go around to all the people in the building and make sure they were going to hang up their flag. But the guy hosting this stand said he never put one up. He said that if you didn’t do it 2 or 3 years in a row, they would come and talk to you and ask if everything is okay, etc.  Yuck.


The Tacheles art center, which was a ruined building after the war that was “taken over” by artists and made into studios while leaving the bombed-out structure essentially the same.  From afar, it still looks like a ruin.   Man, they hate Bush over here!  There was this huge stairwell there and the bottom portion was COVERED in anti-Bush posters.  There are even movements to get him un-selected, despite the fact that they can’t vote or give money over here.  My favorite poster showed Bush and read, “Ich Bin Kein Berliner.”  Special Berlin party favor goes to the first person who gets the reference there. 


 

Stasi Museum Pt. 1

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Today Mel and I took a trip to the former Stasi Headquarters, now a small museum, in a part of the former East Berlin that was full of ugly Communist-era apartment blocks.  The Stasi were the East German secret police and they took spying on their own citizens to unprecedented new levels.  For example, they tapped every long distance call and when certain keywords were said, the call was automatically recorded.


There is so much to say about this experience.  It was horrifying and scary, but also poignant and ultimately very moving.  But it’s 1:20am here and I am way tired.  So I will leave you with one observation. 


The English-language booklet that was given to visitors talks a lot about the notorious Erich Mielke, who was head of the Stasi and the chief architect of East Germany’s surveillance state.  The book included this chilling passage:



Lenin, as Stalin, was a role model for Erich Mielke, and several statements make it clear that he considered himself a Stalinist until the end of the Ministry for Security. (“Who is not with us is against us. Who is against us is an enemy and enemies will be eliminated!”)


Why is this passage so chilling, you ask?  Because of this statement by our current President on November 6, 2001:



Bush said he would not point out any specific countries when he speaks to the UN.


“Over time it’s going to be important for nations to know they will be held accountable for inactivity. You’re either with us or against us in the fight against terror.”


 

Loud hostel

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Poor Melanie barely slept a wink last night because of the revelers in our hostel lounge (Americans and Aussies).  They partied until 6 am.  Damn annoying.  There’s also a club downstairs.   I used earplugs, so I was fine.  But they bother Melanie.  The noise has been a problem, but lodging is damn expensive here, so what are you going to do.  Here’s where we’re staying.

UPDATE:  We moved to the Circus Hostel, which is as nice as the other one was divy.


 

Posting Comments

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People have had some difficulty posting comments, which is
disappointing because I’m really looking forward to hearing all your
smarmy remarks.  (Yes, that means you, Matt Mansfield!)  I have changed
the template, which might help a bit, I’m not sure. 


As far as I can tell, you should be able to comment by becoming a
member of the site.  Just click on the “Join Now” button in the
left-hand column and follow the prompts.  Once you have joined, just
log in and then you will be able to comment. 

Unfortunately, this buggy blog interface isn’t the best.  But it’s
free and non-corporate – it’s run through the Berkman Center.

Now back to your regularly scheduled enjoyment of my self-indulgent rantings…

The simple child asks…

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Some of you have asked, what is this all about?

Well, basically, I am on a 30-day trip to Europe.  I am taking
this trip
for several reasons.  For one, I will be visiting Poland with Dad,
Sara, and Marie to retrace our grandparents’ steps and to get some idea
of how they lived.  Also, the resident portion at least of my
work
at the Berkman Center in Cambridge, MA has concluded, so I had the
freedom to take such a trip.

Here is my rough itinerary:

2 September:  Berlin with my good friend Melanie the Bavarian. 

8 September:  Bavaria with Melanie.  We’ll be in Dingolfing and Regensburg

11 September:  Vienna.  I will be tracking down all the sites from The Third Man and just sightseeing.

15 September:  Rome with Dad, Sara, and Marie. 

20 September:  Krakow, Poland, also with Dad, Sara and
Marie.  We will be doing the “rediscovering our roots”
thing.  We will also be taking overnight trips or day trips to
Warsaw, Lodz, and other local spots. 

30 September:  Kansas City.

7 October:  San Francisco.

Berlin Snack Food

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We didn’t mean to eat nothing but
snack food all day as we wandered about Berlin, but before we knew it,
there we were at 3:45 a.m. Sunday morning munching on currywurst. 
The day was over.  And all we had eaten between the two of us were
three doner kebaps, two currywursts, two donuts, two Berliner
bratwursts, and french fries. 

For those of you back in the states (i.e., everyone reading this), here is a breakdown of what all that stuff is:

CURRYWURST:  Bratwursts cut up into pieces  with curry powder
sprinkled on, and then squirted all over with ketchup.  Damn tasty.

DONER KEBAP:  The late-night king and ultimate Berlin snack
food.  It is so popular due to the large Turkish population
here.  This is “lamb on a spit” (just like a gyro) that is put in
a really tasty Turkish bread with cabbage salad, mayo, and sometimes
hot sauce. 

BRATWURST:  Grilled white sausage.  ‘Nuff said.

It’s Like Logan’s Run

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So it turns out the average
age in Berlin is between 35 and 45 years old.  That translates to
YOUNG PEOPLE EVERYWHERE.  It’s great!  In some neighborhoods
(Prenzlauer Berg, for example), you can go two hours without seeing
more than one person over 40 the whole time.  Can you
imagine? 


It’s so great here.

It’s Like Logan’s Run …

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