Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Немецко-русский музей в Берлине (Deutsch-Russisches Museum Berlin)

German-Russian Museum
I spend a lot of time in museums, probably more than the average person. And, while a museum can be a place of rest and reprieve while traveling, it can also be fatiguing. Most tourists want to see everything, but overdoing a museum can be counterproductive.

In Berlin, visiting and appreciating all of the city's great museums is impossible, especially during a single visit. If you're in Berlin for just three to five days, then select two or three museums that are appealing you. Don't visit a museum because it's a "must see." If you're not interested in fine art, don't go to the Alte Nationalgalerie, and if the ancient world is unappealing, then bypass the Pergamon

The Surrender Room: The Place
Where Documents Confirming
Germany's Unconditional Surrender
Were Signed
These days, I focus on the smaller museums. And, if I visit a large museum, I select a particular gallery and concentrate on just a few paintings or sculptures. I limit my visits to about an hour. After an hour, my attention wanders, and I simply can't enjoy the exhibits. 

Mural Depicting the
Three Allied Power
Choking Hitler
One museum I enjoy is the German-Russian Museum (Deutsch-Russisches Museum). Situated in the leafy suburb of Karlshorst, this small intimate museum is housed in the building where the second World War in Europe officially ended.
Suicide of Family in Vienna:
Prompted by years of hate propaganda
against the USSR and the knowledge of
German crimes in the East, many people in
Germany and Austria, fearing revenge, committed
suicide as the Red Army approached. 

The museum documents the war on the Eastern Front, the daily life of the average Soviet citizen during the war, and the lasting effects of the war on Russia and Germany. The audio installations located throughout the museum are particularly moving. They chronicle the experiences of those who suffered under the Nazis. If WWII is an interest of yours, then don't miss this place. 

Logistics: Getting to the museum can be difficult. I recommend taking U-Bahn(U5) to the Tierpark station or S-Bahn(S3) to the Karlshorst station and then taking bus 296 to the Museum. The museum is free and is closed on Monday.
Audio Installation Documenting
the Experiences of the Ordinary
Citizen During the War

Russian Poster Aimed
at the British and American Audience 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Burka Avenger: Pakistan's Answer to Wonder Woman

Have a look at Pakistan's answer to Wonder Woman. Burka Avenger is an animated TV series from Pakistan that's definitely must see TV! 

Freedom of the Press Worldwide in 2013

The poster, "Freedom of the Press Worldwide 2013," is the work an organization called Reporter ohne Grenzen (Reporters without Borders). Using a variety of variables, including the number of journalists killed, imprisoned, or harassed, the organization has classified countries according to press freedom. The light colored areas represent countries with high levels of press freedom while the darker areas are viewed as places in a "very serious situation." 
Detail Section

The USA, France, Japan, and the UK are considered "in a satisfactory situation" while Namibia, Germany, Ireland, Finland, Costa Rica, and the Czech Republic are rated as good, higher than the USA. I'm not an expert on press freedom, but I'm a little skeptical about these ratings. For one thing, Germany censors what the press can say about the Holocaust, Ireland has an unofficial policy of avoiding provocative stories about the Catholic church, Finland shies away from antagonizing its neighbor Russia, and the Namibian press is hardly scrupulous. Perhaps, the poster is referring to journalist safety. Yet, as far as I know, American journalists enjoy as much safety as their German, Czech, or Irish counterparts. 

The USA was the first country's to codified freedom of the Press and freedom of Speech in its Constitution, and accordingly, the press have few, if any limitsJust listen to talk radio, watch Fox News, or grab a copy of the New York Times.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Super Scrumptious Soup in Berlin

Even in the Rain,
Outside Dining is Possible
at Eintopf
Located on eclectic Gotzkowskystraße in the Moabit section of Berlin, Eintopf is a small neighborhood restaurant specializing in soups. Their homemade soups are made from scratch everyday, which include a vegan and/or vegetarian option. Friendly service, reasonable prices (3,90€ per bowl with unlimited bread), and a pleasant atmosphere make Eintopf a great place to visit for a healthy lunch.

A View From Eintopf 
BTW: Moabit is one of those Berlin neighborhoods that's relatively tourist free. There's a lively vibe to this multicultural area that's full of restaurants, cafes, and music venues. If anything, Moabit reminds me of SoHo during the late 1980s.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Yes We Scan!

The recent revelations that the USA spied on many of its allies may have an impact on the upcoming German election. Chancellor Merkel has closely aligned herself with President Obama and many of his foreign policy positions. At one time, the President was the most popular person in Germany, and Frau Merkel's close association with him was a political plus. No longer. The German love affair with the President has faded.

Shortly after the USA spy program became public, Regierungssprecher (Government spokesman) Steffen Seibert stated, "Wir sind nicht mehr im Kalten Krieg." ("We are no longer in the Cold War.") He expressed, what many in Germany were beginning to think: The United States is again imposing its might on the rest of the world. 

Guantanamo, Afghanistan, Syria, and now the NSA leaks have all dented the President's image. In the German capital, there are weekly demonstrations against the USA, and there's a general feeling of sympathy for the plight of Edward Snowden. Up till now, the opposition has tried to make this a major election issue but without much success. Frau Merkel is still relatively popular, but popularity can wane. Just look at what happened to President Obama. 

Berlin Heat Wave!

Decorative water jets
at Boxhangerplatz offer relief
from the scorching temperatures.
I was so tempted to join in. 
We're having a heat wave, a tropical Berlin heat wave. With temperatures expected to reach 38°C (100.4°F) today, my goal is to stay cool. That's not so easy since most places lack air conditioning. Of course, museums and movie theaters have AC, but the thought of riding my bike to these venues seems daunting and unpleasant. Shopping centers are another option, but it's Sunday, and they're closed. Maybe a cold dip in the bathtub?

Saturday, July 27, 2013

"Poirot Has His Virtues, But Modesty Is Not One Of Them." Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie Challenge:  Book Number 7

Agatha Christie's The Big Four (1927) is an unbelievable story of espionage, murder, assumed identities, and international intrigue. To say it requires a suspension of disbelief is to put it mildly. The Big Four is pure entertainment. It's full of thrills and plenty of red herrings. This time the indomitable Hercule Poirot matches his wits against a diabolical international organization known as the "Big Four." The story includes a femme fatale, a mysterious Chinese leader, and a secretive lair where criminal activities are engineered. It sounds like a James Bond novel, but it's Christie, 25 years before the first Bond book. 

Christie was never taken seriously, and The Big Four was not well-received by the critics. Yet, like most of Christie's novels, The Big Four rises above the typical potboiler. Christie knows how to set-up a scene and build tension. For example, her use of inner dialogue that quickly jumps to narrative action adds a sense of foreboding. This juxtaposition of mood is a quintessential Christie device that never fails to surprise. So suspend disbelief and enjoy The Big Four. It's the perfect summer read. 

Rating: B

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Vegetable Orchestra (aka Das erste Wiener Gemüseorchester)

The Vegetable Orchestra (Das erste Wiener Gemüseorchester) is a musical group from Vienna who perform using instruments made entirely from fresh vegetables. The group consists of ten musicians, one cook, and one sound technician. Tonight, the group performed to an enthusiastic Berlin audience, which included some of Berlin's most prominent vegans and vegetarians. 

Their instruments, which are all of their own invention, include carrot recorders, clappers made from eggplant, and trumpets made from zucchini. Their repertoire includes some experimental pieces and some standards from the likes of Stravinsky and Kraftwerk.

To ensure perfect sound quality, the instruments are made from scratch just one hour before each performance using only the freshest vegetables available. Then all ninety pounds of vegetables are cooked into a soup following the performance. Nothing goes to waste!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Die Hundetage Des Sommers (The Dog Days of Summer)

This Little Guy Knows
how to Stay Cool
The "dog days of summer" have officially begun (July 23-August 23). In Germany, these days roughly correspond to the warmest time of year. And true to form, on July 23th, the days became warmer and increasingly uncomfortable. The phrase dates back to the ancient Egyptians who discovered that the star Sirius from the constellation Canis Major (Latin for "big dog") was at its brightest point during this time of year. The star can be seen rising alongside the sun, and the ancients believed that Sirius gave off extra heat and humidity causing the scorching summer temperatures.  

Packaged Dog Meat at S. Korean Supermarket
In South Korea, dog meat is traditionally consumed during the dog days of summer. It is erroneously believed that eating dog meat helps ease the heat by increasing stamina.

Gregory Peck
as Atticus Finch
During the 19th century, it was believed that dogs would most often contract rabies during this period of time. A scene in To Kill a Mockingbird suggests that this belief continued well into the 20th century, when a mad dog is shot by Atticus Finch. 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Dolphins are "Non-Human Persons"

Bravo India! India has joined Costa Rica, Hungary, and Chile in recognizing the Dolphin's right to life and liberty. India stated, in part:
Whereas cetaceans in general are highly intelligent and sensitive, . . .  [dolphins] should be seen as 'non-human persons' and as such should have their own specific rights and is morally unacceptable to keep them captive for entertainment purposes. (bold added)
Unfortunately, Norway, Japan, and Iceland still permit commercial whaling, a savagely cruel practice.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

I Scream, You Scream, We all Scream, for Ice Cream

What better way to advertise your product than to have a replica of it decorating your storefront. Barber shop poles and wooden Indian's were common in the early 1900's. In the 1950's, when the era of the replica reached its zenith, there were dinosaurs, reptiles, cows, pizzas, and every imaginable kind of thing dotting the roadside. My favorite was the iconic Bob's Big Boy statue: a symbol for juicy hamburgers and fast service. 

In Berlin, it's the plastic ice cream cone. These kitschy mass-produced sculptures are easy to overlook, but they are everywhere.  

Monday, July 15, 2013

Anna's Story: The Nazi's "Euthanasia" Program

Anna Lehnkering
Anna Lehnkering's story is not unusual. It's just one among many that documents the Nazi's so called "euthanasia" program of the 1930/40s. Anna was a normal young girl who had difficulty with reading and writing in school. Today, she would likely be diagnosed as dyslexic, but to the Nazis, she was considered "unworthy of life," a "useless eater."

At the end of 1935, the Hereditary Health Court ordered that Anna be taken from her home, sterilized, and transferred to a mental institution. At the institution, Anna suffered from neglect and malnutrition. She was described in medical documents as "longing to go home" and "sad." Ultimately, she was sent to Berlin's "T4" euthanasia facility where she was murdered  She was 24 years old.

According to the law, anyone who suffered from a mental or physical disability, or labeled as "anti-social," was not allowed to procreate and deemed "eligible" for institutionalization. It was all part of a systematic eugenics program that was administered with stereotypical German precision and efficiency. 

As many as 300,000 people fell victim to one of history's first planned mass exterminations. There were six euthanasia facilities in Germany and Austria. The best known was "Tiergartenstraße 4" or "T4" in Berlin, which extinguished the lives of 70,000 people. In nearly all the cases, the inmates were killed with drugs or starved to death. 

Located where the Berlin Philharmonic stands today, the T4 facility was demolished after the war and its past nearly forgotten. Last week, construction began on a monument to commemorate those who perished at Tiergartenstraße 4. The monument is scheduled to be completed in 2014, and will join existing Berlin monuments commemorating Jewish, Homosexual, and Gypsy victims who died at the hands of the Nazis.

For more information about Anna's fate and the fate of other T4 inmates, visit the Tiergatenstraße 4 Open Air Exhibition. It's located behind the Philharmonic and across the street from the Tiergarten Park. The Exhibition runs until November 17, 2013.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Potsdam has More to Offer than Just Sanssouci

Sanssouci Palace
There are so many things to do in Berlin that tourists often see only the "top" attractions. That's unfortunate since Berlin has so much more to offer than just museums. To understand Berlin, one needs to explore the surrounding towns and countryside. 

My first recommendation is to rent a bicycle. I often suggest a visit to Potsdam. Although 
Potsdam's Brandenburger Gate
Potsdam has its share of tourists, one doesn't feel as overwhelmed as in Berlin. Potsdam is the capital of the German state of Brandenburg and lies about 24 kilometers (15 miles) southwest from Berlin. It's an easy subway ride from central Berlin and will cost 3.10€ for a one-way ticket (tack on another 2.20€ if you bring a bicycle).

Potsdam's major attraction is Sanssouci Palace, Germany's answer to Versailles. It gets very very crowded, so be prepared! Sanssouci was the former residence of Frederick the Great, and its vast gardens and Rocco architecture make it one of Brandenburg's top attractions.

The Cecilienhof
Potsdam's other major attraction is the Cecilienhof, the site of the Potsdam conference where the allied leaders met to finalize the fate of Germany, Austria, Poland, and Vietnam following WWII. The Cecilienhof is situated in the Neuer Garten (New Garden), and is one of my favorite places in Potsdam. The Neuer Garten borders the lakes Heiliger See and Jungfernsee, and makes for a wonderful day visit. One can picnic, swim, walk, bicycle, or just experience solitude. It's never crowded. And for film buffs, Potsdam has a great film museum (currently closed for renovations) and is also near the famed Babelsberg film studios.

The Neuer Garten

The Marmorpalais (Marble Palace)
located on the shore of the Heiliger See
and overlooking the Neuer Park

The Dutch Quarter in Potsdam

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Return of the Typewriter: The New (Old) Security Device

A return to low tech? The typewriter could be staging a comeback.  (I had no idea they still made these things.) The Kremlin has announced that it will order 20 typewriters to prevent potential security leaks in the aftermath of the Edward Snowden, Julian Assange, and Bradley Manning scandals. Deploying the almost forgotten typewriter could be an innovative new (old) security weapon. Creating paper documents could reduce cyber-spying, and unlike printers, every typewriter has its own individual pattern of type so it's easy to link every document to the machine used to type it.

Friday, July 12, 2013

"Inspiring People to Care About the Planet": Happy Birthday Day National Geographic Society!

Dieter Schonlau
 Malaysia 2010
Green Gecko
Jodi Cobb
Tahiti 1997
Two sides of paradise: The
natural beauty of Tahiti and the lasting
effects of French colonialism.

The National Geographic Society is celebrating its 125th anniversary, and as part of that celebration, the Willy-Brandt-Haus in Berlin is exhibiting 55 iconic images from the magazine's colorful past.

Under the motto, "Inspiring people to care about the planet," the exhibition illustrates the Society's dedication and commitment to science, history, archaeology, astronomy, and sustainability. Many of these breathtaking pictures seem unreal. For example, Franz Lanting's African sunset is like a Vincent van Gogh painting.

The exhibition is on view until August 14, 2013. Admission is free, but a passport is required for entry.

Hugo van Lawick
Tanzania 1964
NGS was an early supporter of
Jane Goodall's research into
primate behavior. What

defines "human" anyway? 
Jim Richardson
The Isle of Skye 2010

Carsten Peter
South Dakota USA 2003
Tornado Hunter

It's like the Wizard of Oz

Franz Lanting
Namibia 2012
This unbelievable photograph

was shot at Namib-Naukluft
National Park at sunset.
There is no color enhancement.
This is the real thing. 

William Albert Allard
Texas USA 1982
Lonesome Cowboy

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

"The Island of Misfit Toys" for Vegetables

Tanja Krakowski and Lea Brumsack
Culinary Misfits
In the Christmas classic, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Rudolph and Yukon Cornelius stumble upon the "Island of Misfit Toys" where unwanted playthings with cosmetic or physical flaws go to live until a home can be found for them.

In Berlin, two enterprising young women have created a similar haven for unwanted fruits and vegetables such as carrots with two legs, crooked cucumbers, or overly bulbous strawberries and potatoes. Tanja Krakowski and Lea Brumsack are the founders of Culinary Misfits, a culinary service that sell dishes cooked with abnormally shaped fruits and vegetables, food that would otherwise be destroyed, fed to animals, or used as compost. They see beauty in imperfection. Some of their unusual dishes include Schräge Pastinakensuppe" (weird parsnip soup), "Krumme Gurkensuppe" (crooked cucumber soup) and "Gekrümmten Gugelhupf" (curved ring cake).

One of the goals of Culinary Misfits is to point out the wasteful use of food in our throwaway society. Today, official marketing standards and customer demand for flawless produce have created an environment where food is selected accordingly to optical criteria alone. According to a United Nations study, approximately 40 percent of all the fruits and vegetables that are grown never make it to market. It's the sad price we pay to live in our perfect world. 

Although Culinary Misfits primarily operates as catering service, it does occasionally have a food stall at Markthalle Neun in Kreuzberg where they find homes (tummies) for all these unwanted fruits and veggies. In any case, you should check out their Facebook page to get a taste of their awesome food creations.