Monday, April 30, 2012

Berlin's May Day Riots

May Day in Berlin has a darker side - the annual May Day riots in Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain. The usually peaceful May Day street parties and concerts tend to give way to car-burning and stone-throwing as the day turns into night. Following a tradition that goes back decades, the May Day holiday has been marked by violence since 1987. Consequently, the Berlin police are bracing themselves for violence as several groups, including trade unions, far-left parties, and neo-Nazis will be taking part in street demonstrations.

I will be in my apartment observing all the activities from the safety of the balcony. However, for those of you that will miss all the May Day activities, there is a tour of Kreuzberg's riot hot spots conducted in English by an American anti-capitalist activist. See the video. 

Berlin Doesn't Love You!

May Day (aka "International Workers of the World Day") falls on Tuesday making it a four day weekend for most Europeans. I had a conversation with a woman this morning who said that 99% of Berlin's hotels are full, and that Berlin expects an estimated 1.5 million tourists this weekend (Berlin has a population of 3.5 million)! 

Over the past few years, Berlin has become a hot tourist destination. This rapid increase in tourism, and the negatives it brings, has made some locals angry, especially in Kreuzberg, which has become a tourism mecca. You see "Berlin Doesn't Love You" signs everywhere. 

Personally, I like tourists. They add a festive element to the city; and for the most part, they're respectful and law abiding. Nevertheless, tourism does have its drawbacks, including an increase in crime, drug and alcohol abuse, and, of course, litter. After the holiday is over, there will be trash, broken beer bottles, cigarette butts, and discarded pizza cartons scattered everywhere. It makes riding a bicycle dangerous.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Beer Gardens in the Tiergarten

Relax at Schleusenkrug
It feels like summer in Berlin. And all this warm weather can only mean one thing-beer. My favorite beer garden in Berlin is the Zenner in Treptower Park. Located on a river, the Zenner is off the beaten path for most tourists, but it's always great fun, especially on Saturday afternoons, when it hosts a "Schlager Party" (cheesy German pop/folk music). The people at the Zenner are ultra friendly, and after a few beers and dancing, even the most depressed person is cheered up. 

In addition to the Zenner, there are two other very popular beer gardens in Berlin that are worth a visit. Although not as entertaining as the Zenner, the Schleusenkrug and Cafe am Neuen See  definitely have their pluses. Both are located in the Tiergarten, Berlin's version of NYC's Central Park, and both have excellent subway and bus connections.

Cafe am Neuen See
Cafe am Neuen See is the more picturesque of the two. It overlooks a small lake with plenty of trees for shade. It's usually packed on the weekends, making for a festive and friendly atmosphere. Unfortunately, there's no music and the throngs of tourists may discourage people from visiting. 

Schleusenkrug, on the other hand, may not be as scenic as Cafe am Neuen See, but the place is more relaxed with a healthy mix of tourists and locals. The food is quite good, and its moderate size makes for more intimate conversations. So on a warm day, take a stroll to a beer garden and do what most Berliners do-drink beer. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Computer Game Museum / Computer Spiele Museum

The Entrance to a Temporary Exhibition
is Guarded by Game Hero's
Although computer games aren't my thing, I couldn't resist visiting Berlin's Computer Game Museum (Computer Spiele Museum). A short walk from my apartment and easily accessible by subway, the Museum has over 300 exhibits and is very interactive.

From Pong to the Sims, the Museum traces the history and development of computer games, and shows how computer games have revolutionized society and technology. Computer games are probably the most innovative art form of the 20th century, and now there is a Museum devoted exclusively to them.   

Portrait of
William Ralph "Will" Wright
"Father of the Sims"
Located on Karl-Marx-Allee, the East German socialist boulevard with its wedding-cake style buildings, the Museum seems out of place amid the old Stalinist architecture. Nevertheless, the day I visited, the Museum was full of enthusiastic visitors.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Das Beste Burrito in Berlin!

On the Street Where I Live!
After a long absence, I'm back in Berlin; and as usual, gentrification continues on in Friedrichshain. Just a few years ago, the derelict buildings, graffiti, and homeless people dominated the streets. Today, there are upscale restaurants, posh cafes, trendy shops, and plenty of women pushing baby strollers. Hard to believe that Friedrichshain is now hip; and I live there, the most un-hip person around. 

Even the neighborhood subway station (S-Bahn, Warschauer Straße) is undergoing a change. The station hasn't been renovated since shortly after the Second World War. At last, there will be an elevator, making it easier to carry luggage out of the station. Hallelujah! 

One new addition to the food scene is a small no frills restaurant with the catchy name, No Hablo Espanol. It specializes in burritos made in the "San Francisco Style" (I'm not sure what that means, but it did entice me to try a burrito.)

The burritos at this restaurant aren't traditional, but what they lack in authenticity, they make up for in taste. I tried the Indian burrito, made with tofu (chicken is also available) in an Indian curry sauce. The burrito was delicious and inventive, combining Mexican and Indian cuisine in one dish! I will definitely try this place again. 

No Hablo Espanol has been open since February. They have limited seating but takeaway is always an option. Vegan burritos are also available. No Hablo Espanol is located at Kopernikusstr. 22 - 10245 Berlin.

Monday, April 23, 2012

If You've Got the Money, I've Got the Time

Money has always played a significant role in politics. But today, money seems to weld an even greater influence in its ability to influence our political process. As the old song goes, "If You've Got the Money, I've Got the Time."

During this primary season, we've seen the Republican candidates spend millions of dollars on ad campaigns, much of it negative and funded for the most part by super-PACS. l can't help but think what worthwhile uses this money could have been used for instead.

As a result of the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (U.S. 2010), political spending had been found to be a form of speech protected under the First Amendment. As such, the government cannot prevent corporations, unions, or individuals from spending unlimited amounts of money to support or denounce a political candidate through advertising. Let's not be naive, giving money to a campaign means buying influence. Moreover, the donors of this money can remain anonymous. 

The Citizens United case has effectively eviscerated our campaign finance law. The decision has enabled our political system to be corrupted by the influence of BIG money. We are now beginning to see how overturning a century of campaign finance law is distorting the electoral process. Rather than acting truly independent of campaigns, as the majority of Supreme Court Justices envisioned, these entities (super-PACS) act exclusively on behalf of individual candidates - and are typically run by former aides. For example, the super-PAC, Restore Our Future, was founded by Mitt Romney aides in 2010. The group's treasurer is the former general counsel of the Romney 2008 Presidential Campaign. Restore Our Future has reportedly raised over $12 million in the first half of 2011 alone, much of that money going to negative advertising. Does anyone truly believe this is an independent group?

Rather than encouraging the universal right of free speech, the Supreme Court's decision has had the effect of providing a megaphone for the rich and powerful to drown out all other voices. Is this the political process we want for our country?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Another Victory For Internet Freedom

In a victory for Internet freedom, the High Court of Australia has ruled that Internet service providers have no responsibility when it comes to the actions of their customers regarding copyright infringement.

The entertainment industry had been hoping for a ruling that would have punished Internet service providers for failing to suspend or terminate contracts with customers who traded and copied pirated movies and music. This is the third time that movie studios have lost copyright infringement cases in Australia. In the USA, the entertainment industry seems to have lawmakers in their hip pocket, especially when it come to copyright laws. Hurrah for Australia!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Berlin in Miniature

It probably sounds nerdy, but one of my favorite things to do in Berlin is visit the Loxx Miniature Railway system. The 3,000 square meter model of Berlin is full of incredible details - some real, and some improvements on the real city. Its attention to detail and its sense of humor are amazing - it features everything inside Berlin's Ringbahn (the circular subway that surrounds the inner core of Berlin). It includes an airport with planes that take off and land, a traditional Christmas Market with a drunk Santa, a Tina Turner concert, and naked sunbathers. Take a tour of this miniature version of Berlin. It's almost as fun as visiting the real Berlin.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Sad Case of King Juan Carlos

I've always respected King Juan Carlos of Spain. After General Franco's death in 1975, Juan Carlos successfully oversaw the transition of Spain from a dictatorship to a parliamentary monarchy. He is also credited with foiling an attempted military coup in 1981 and protecting Spain's newly formed democratic institutions. In 2007, Juan Carlos made international headlines when, at the Ibero-American Summit in Chile, he told Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to "shut up." (As usual, President Chavez had been monopolizing the conversation and interrupting the Spanish Prime Minister.)

Juan Carlos and Guide Standing in Front of the Kill
Last week, it was revealed that the King had gone elephant-hunting in Africa after photographs of the King holding a gun beside dead elephants and water buffalo surfaced. 

The King who is the honorary President of the Spanish branch of the World Wildlife Fund quickly apologized for his "mistake." Mistake?  It wasn't a mistake -  the King deliberately went to Africa and set out to kill elephants, and like many public figures these days, the apology sounds more like he is sorry that he was caught rather than sorry for what he did.

Apparently, Spaniards can't decide which is worse - whether the King might have spent public money on his African safari or whether it was right for him to kill defenseless elephants. In any case, there have been calls for the King's abdication. For what it's worth, you can add my name to the list of people wanting the King to go!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Foreigners Are Making Berlin Their Home

I'm one of those people mentioned in the video that decided to buy an apartment in Berlin and make it my part-time home. Although I rarely take advantage of Berlin's night scene, I do enjoy the other cultural activities that make Berlin the "new" European cultural capital. 

And with its economy booming, Germany is also attracting well-educated immigrants. No other place in Germany exemplifies this new prosperity and multiculturalism than in Berlin. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Amazing Bella Abzug

Bella Abzug (1920-1998) is hard to forget. As a United States Congresswoman during the 1970s, Ms. Abzug was known for her straight talking political style, her conscientious devotion to equality and justice, and of course, her colorful hats.  

During her career, Congresswoman Abzug fought to protect and strengthen the rights of women and minorities. Not immune from discrimination herself, Ms. Abzug championed the elimination of gender biased credit card requirements. As a Congresswomen, Ms. Abzug had been denied an American Express credit card simply because her husband had not co-signed her credit card application!

Recently, I was reminded of Ms. Abzug after reading about the problems associated with the new credit card law that went into effect last October (the Credit Accountability, Responsibility & Disclosure Act, aka CARD)Under CARD, credit card companies must now consider "individual" rather than "household" income or assets when issuing cards. The changes were intended to prevent banks from issuing credit cards to college students who would run up thousands of dollars of debt without an ability to pay. But apparently, no one realized that the new law would have some unintended consequences for stay-at-home parents. Sometimes the best intentions can go awry.

"Women have been trained
to speak softly and carry a lipstick.
Those days are over." Bella Abzug
Banks and other financial institutions have interpreted the new credit card law to mean that people without a paycheck or ample personal savings are ineligible for credit cards. That, of course, includes spouses who don't work-- husbands in some cases but most often wives. 

The law looks like a throw back to the 1950s, when women needed their husbands' signature to open a bank account or obtain credit, even when they had jobs and incomes of their own.

The law undermines 35 years of progress for married women (and married men if they do not work outside the home). Non-earning spouses aren't adult children sponging off benevolent parents--they're equal contributors to the household, providing vital and necessary work. Shouldn't they have a credit card in their own name?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The German Sandra Bullock

Not many people know that Sandra Bullock speaks flawless German. Her mother was a German opera singer and teacher. Here is a video clip of her accepting the Bambi Prize in German. 

WiFi for the Birds

Sunday, April 15, 2012

J'ai Bien Aimé Cette Vidéo!

This is a very funny video. It's philosophical, compelling, and very French. It makes me want to live in la belle France. Il capte la sensibilité françaises. Heni est sage et sait la signification de "Memento Mori."

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Germans Go Whole Hog

Want to meet your meat? This German farm lets people select a live pig online, which is then butchered and delivered to them in a package with the photo of the pig on the label. At first blush, this marketing scheme sounds gross. Yet, it has a logic to it. 

I don't eat pork; and, in general, I try to cut back on animal products altogether. Nevertheless, I recognize that many people do enjoy pork; and for them, this method of raising and selling pork is humane and healthier than the industrial pig farms. Pigs on this German farm are able to live a relatively natural life where they roam outside and eat fresh and unadulterated food. 

It also makes people face the consequences of eating meat, and perhaps, even question their decision to eat these lovable and intelligent animals in the first place. 

Matt Zarley For President

If you can't bring yourself to vote for Obama or Romney, why not Matt Zarley for President?