Monday, June 30, 2008

Nowhere but here, Part 2: Köln

I failed, but I think it was rigged. They kept telling me chesterfields were supposed to be called sofas, and that a woollen winter hat is a cap, not a toque.

Note the reflection on the right. It's art. Think about it.

Some gigantic kid is verrrry pissed off right now.

The beer museum. I don't know how much I would trust it for authoritative knowledge, as it had a bar on the main level and the museum upstairs.

I loved the juxtaposition of German football outfits being sold at the store called New Yorker. I also love the word juxtaposition.

"My friend Harry and I are saving up to open a pet store." Too bad it's only men's clothes.

This was a nice restaurant, but they decorate it with the money they take by ripping off tourists. Do not eat in the Altstadt in Cologne.

I was soooooooo tempted. The thing is, the joke is on the tourists. The locals stand around, point, laugh, and throw rotten vegetables at you as you're paraded by in this thing and not allowed to escape.

Somehow I don't recall her speaking German on desperate housewives.......

I pretty much almost died when I saw this at the Schockolade Museum in Köln. That is, in fact, a flowing fountain of liquid Lindt chocolate. I hope you're drooling as well, because I sure am.
Even crossing an ocean, I can't escape her.

Jack Sparrow the mime really didn't like me taking his picture without paying. I guess I'm a bit of an ass. As this picture even better demonstrates. I found it hilarious how the mimes realize what time it is, step down from their stool, and take their lunch break, conversing with each other about politics, the weather, and the projected economic forecast for their line of business.
This guy was pretty damn good. It really shows just how lucrative street performing can be.

This will also appear in my work-in-progress food and drink photo montage, but because Kölsch is specific to Köln, it deserves a mention in the "only here" category.
Motorcycle + tricycle = Motricycle?

As always, best for last (though the drinking nun would have been here if she didn't make it into the general Köln post). There's undoubtably tons of pictures of this guy floating round cyberspace now, as I saw at least 15 people stop him. It's a German, perhaps European thing, for Bachelor and Bachelorette parties to go around in a big group, selling something to people on the street, be it beer, condoms, candy, what have you, for the afternoon, and then spend that money on the actual party. They can usually be found on any sunny afternoon where lots of people hang out, and are easily visible because of their matching outfits of bunny ears, kilts, T-shirts with outrageous things printed on them, or whatever the theme may be, and by the fact that they often are really really loud and drinking from about 11 am on. The guy in question usually get further humiliated. Here we see one in progress, which I unfortunately couldn't get a good shot of due to the fact that I had to hold a spot in line. The guy walked right through the middle of the busy Köln Hauptbahnhof wearing this, and I have to say I sort of admire his courage.

Sunday, June 29, 2008


My second weekend after starting work in Hannover took me to Köln, or as English-speakers more commonly refer to it as, Cologne. If you are trying to learn the language in this country and there is one word you don't bother learning, it's "Köln". Saying "Cologne" tells them you speak English, but trying and failing to say "Köln" tells them you're an arrogant tourist that thinks they know everything. If you do still want to try, to execute the proper pronunciation you must imagine you are gagging on food at the same time as you are coughing. That's how you say "Köln".

The city is most famous for its gargantuan Gothic cathedral, or Kölner Dom, which is literally the first thing you see when you enter the city by train.

Everything radiates out from the Dom, and it is the "unofficial symbol of the city" as per wikipedia, and my own observations:

Note the beer (the local variety is known as Kölsch, same rules for pronunciation apply) with the cathedral on it. Even better was the nun I caught drinking. Not really relevant to the city, but I have to share.
So the city itself was a Roman colony, and the name eventually went from "Colonia" to "cough-gag". There's still a couple of things remaining from the Roman city, the coolest of which I found was the Praetorium, which was excavated underneath the old city hall. I don't think the Romans had neon green and purple lights, but I don't know my history that well.

Then, with the rise of the Holy Roman Empire, the city became a partially independent city-state in the Medieval ages, complete with moat and drawbridges.

Nowadays the city is full of modern architecture too, for better or for worse. Like most of Germany, it was mostly flattened during the war, and most of what remains is new or was deliberately rebuilt in the old style, like the multiple Romanesque churches around town.

Oh yeah, churches. You can't walk more than 5 minutes without coming across one, and the title "Holy Cologne" is well deserved.
Lastly, I know you're wondering it, and yes, Cologne was invented in Cologne. The problem is, no one flies planes like the Wright Brothers' anymore, or uses the Alexander Graham Bell telephone. Eau de Cologne smells like crap. Apparently it is what senior citizens in Germany use. But boy does it look pretty in those teal bottles!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

National pride in post-Nazi Germany

"It's an interesting time to be in Germany right now" said a fellow student I met in Amsterdam, also from North America, also on exchange to Northern Germany. "Football gives the country a real reason to celebrate, which they otherwise hesitate to do."

60 years following the fall of the Nazi regime, when few are left to remember it first-hand, Germans still hesitate to show pride for their homeland. The atrocities of the Third Reich are the crimes that this nation will live with for years to come, and it shows. People hesitate to fly their national flag because they fear their neighbours will call them Nazis. Public policy is still largely driven by an apologetic Bundestag that feels they have not yet made amends. German films preach the evils of the Nazis and why it is important to understand and not repeat the past. It stifles community relationships, influences the government often to the detriment of the German people as a whole, and while not censorship, greatly limits what artists, musicians, and filmmakers in the country can do. Fear of association with the past crimes of their nation keeps the German people from moving forward, always hesitant and reserved.

The nice thing is that change is occurring, albeit slowly. A catalyst for this change seems to be football. Hosting the world cup in 2006 remains a huge source of pride to the German people, and all I have met look back on the summer with fondness. Watching games with the German crowd ranks among the most exciting things I have done so far in Europe. It is a great thing to see a crowd of teenagers running down the street shouting "Deutschland!" and trailing a flag behind them. Or the bumper-to-bumper cars driving round the city ring honking madly and flying the black, red and gold. 5 years ago, pre World Cup, you would never see this:

Things are changing for the German people. Slowly, they are rediscovering their identity, after being the boogeyman of the developed world and subsequently divided and reunified, suffering the hardships of Soviet influence on the country. Now, Germans can once again begin to celebrate their rich history, their diversity and unique culture. If football is the thing to set the ball rolling (pun intended) then so be it. It makes for a great experience at the public viewings.

Go Deutschland!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

More Berlin

So now I've finally more or less settled into life in Hannover, and have a bit of free time, it's time for me to post more photos from almost a month ago, in Berlin. Eventually I'll get up to photos from Köln and Amsterdam, possibly by December.

The Siegessäule, or Victory Column. Built by the Prussians to celebrate their victory over the Danish, and then updated with more frills and bobbins when they beat the Austrians and French.

This is one of a series of four statues along Unter den Linden, on the bridge crossing the Spree to Museum Island. All were very dramatic, as you can see with this one.

Humboldt University. The most notable thing is the vendors tables out front. Because the students who organized the Nazi book burning in 1934 were Humboldt students, the university now organizes the sale of books, 365 days a year, at discounted prices from in front of the university's gates.

Potsdamer Platz. This part of town was completely flattened during the war, and following it was a focal point of the Wall. After the fall of the wall, construction began, and this is now the most modern part of Berlin, with skyscrapers that look out over much of the city. The central tower contains what they proudly trumpet as "The fastest elevator in Europe!". They don't mention how many slipped discs are a result. I travelled to the top, where you get a panorama view of the entire city. Unfortunately, turns out I'm not totally over my childhood fear of heights and could only spend a limited amount of time up there. Oh and by the way, Europeans are very proud of their skyscrapers. When the church it the tallest building in many cities, anything bigger than 10 floors becomes a sightseeing point, even if it is an eyesore.

Memorial to the 1933 book burning, known as Bibliotek. It is found in the centre of Bebelplatz, the site of the infamous event. The memorial is a 7m x 7m room, sunk underground, lined with empty bookcases. The room has no door. The idea is that there is a "presence of emptiness" and that we cannot enter the room to get to the shelves - read: we cannot go back and change the past. An inscription nearby reads "Where books are burned, in the end people will burn" - Heinrich Heine; importantly, written in 1820.

This is the inside of das Sony Center, looking up. Awesome. This is also part of the modern reconstruction in Potsdamer Platz. The German premieres of Made of Honour and Sex and the city both took place here while I was in Berlin.

There was no sign or description for this sculpture in Marx-Engles square, making me think it is one of those things that's supposed to make you decide for yourself. Damn I hate thinking. Take note of the people contorted into unnatural positions, forced together into uncomfortably close proximity. Sleeping standing up. I'm thinking whoever made it didn't like the idea of communism?

The Palast der Republik, the former DDR headquarters. The building's being taken down because of what it stood for, and how that contradicts Germany's current aspirations for the future. Unfortunately, communists being cheap bastards, the place is full of asbestos and so can't be demolished, so it is being disassembled piece by piece.

The Rot Rathaus - or red city hall, the seat of government for Berlin. In front is the fountain of Triton. I had a better picture of it but someone ruined it by reaching into the fountain while I was taking my picture and now there's a butt in the foreground.

This is the headquarters for Berlin Water management. I think the idea is that if they screw up and the city floods, they can just swim away in their fish-building.

The best example I found of urban decay in the former Ost Berlin. Most buildings in this state are being repaired, restored or replaced. Berlin is currently the largest construction site in Europe, and with good reason. If they don't do something, all the old buildings built by the DDR will just collapse.

The Kaiser-Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche. This church was badly damaged during the war, but stabilized and kept as a memorial to the war. A new, uber-modern church was built right beside it and both are open to visitors.

Murals like this are all around Friedrichshain, former Ost Berlin. I don't know if they date before or after the fall of the wall, but they sure are interesting.

The Kreutzberg Turkish Market. We were recommended to go here by several people and so we headed down and had a walk through. I got some authentic Turkish delight, and others got small bits of food too, but you could really buy anything you wanted from food to fabrics to shower drains. And all while people are yelling at you to buy from them all the time.

This is near the Gemaldegalerie, an art museum. Of all the schrapnel damage all over this city, this was some of the most pronounced I saw.

Alexanderplatz Bahnhof. I went to this train station to get to classes in the morning. This station lies in the middle of a busy square with all sorts of cool stuff around, like department stores, bars, and the TV tower (Fernsehturm). The soviets established it as the center of their Berlin, and it remains a major centre of the city today.

Every postcard rack has at least one of this thing, the world clock. Not sure quite how to tell time from it, but it's pretty cool. The atom-thingy up top spins around.

Schloss Charlottenburg. The first King of Prussia, Friedrich I, built it for his wife, Charlotte. Lucky lady.

This is at the parade of the Karneval der Kulturen in Berlin, the largest festival the city holds every year. Devils seemed to be a recurring theme. Regrettably, I keep getting reminded of Borat when I see this picture......

Karneval der Kulturen parade again. These people were all super-dressed up and on stilts. You can't see it in the picture but one of the ladies was topless. The guy in front was a badass, kept showing off his full wingspan and staring down the crowd.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A trip to the Supermarkt

So one morning you decide to go to your local grocery store, step inside and bam! with a flash of light, loud popping noise and disorientating feeling of being turned sideways and being forced through the eye of a needle, everything changes. You try to get your bearings but before you can, a mother of 3 comes wheeling by with her shopping cart, hitting you and giving you a glare for having the audacity to get in her way. As you find safety between the huge stacks of plastic-bottled beverages, you look around and realize that somehow you are now in a grocery store in central Germany. Some other things you notice are:

- A whole aisle full of sausage, be it link sausage, Leberwurst, salami, or bologna in the shape of a teddy bear with different colours of pink meat, forming a creepy smiley face.

- Fleischsalat. Literally, meat salad. Think chopped ham and mayo. Being a salad, it counts as a serving of vegetables, right?

- You now have some serious choices in the ketchup department. There is Gewürtz ketchup (spicy ketchup), Thai ketchup, salsa ketchup, chili ketchup, curry ketchup.......

- There is a sizable portion of the store devoted to their selection of chocolate bars.

- Cereal with chunks of milk chocolate. Probably the best idea anyone's ever had.

- Milk, stored at room temperature in tetra packs. Us North Americans really dislike this idea but it is more or less the norm here. You can get frisch milch if you want, but then that takes up room in your fridge........

- Insanely cheap dairy. No lie. 1L of milk for under €1. 1L of YOP-like yogurt drink for less than €0.50. Sizeable chunks of Brie for €1.50. Apparently this is actually upsetting the Dairy farmers in Germany, but it is definitely not upsetting me!

- Forget cheese, the popular flavour for corn puffs is peanut. I couldn't make this up.

- Inexplicably, everyone is obsessed with Spärgel (Asparagus). This perennially hated food is gigantic here. It defies rationality.

Enjoy it while you're here. There's a lot to be learned about food. Mostly how many different ways sausage can be produced, but that's an important life skill, right?

Monday, June 9, 2008

Things I learned while travelling to Amsterdam

1. The Deutsche Bahn is not as reliable or nice as everyone seems to think and is not above having you miss your connection, get stuck 3 hours in Oberhausen and ruin your plans for the evening. They do compensate you for your time, with a whopping €5 rebate off your next trip. Great, that's enough money to buy dinner, while I wait for my next train to arrive.

2. For all those who say German is a caustic language to listen to, they clearly have not heard enough Dutch. However.....

3. English with a thick Dutch accent is hilarious, and very hard to take seriously.

4. People get very angry when you try to take pictures in the Red Light District. Now re-read #3.

5. Never believe travel time estimates that hostels give you. When the 30 min Metro + 15 minute walk turns into 40 +30, causing you to waste 2 hours that would be much better spent enjoying the city, it is time to ask for your money back.

6. Check that luggage lockers in train stations will be open when you need to get your luggage out or risk spending the night without them.

7. When very thirsty and dehydrated in a European city you are unsure of the tap water quality of, pass up the €0.45 1.5L fruit juice enriched in vitamin C and spend the €2.00 for the bottled water instead. The human body has a limit for how much of the nutrient it can handle. Think horrible hangover without the previous alcohol consumption. Makes for a rough day touring the city and train ride back.

8. Amsterdam was not built for tour groups. Be it the crabby residents who hate tourists, narrow sidewalks with mopeds and bikes zipping by with 6 inches clearance, canals without railings, trams that stop for no one, or small posts that seem just the right size to miss seeing but bash a kneecap off extremely painfully, the city seems to conspire against tourists.

9. It is obvious in a city known for legalized marijuana that the local restaurants cater to the munchies. Along any one street you can find 5 or 6 places serving pre-cooked pizza that they briefly heat for you, all for a cheap €4.

10. Traffic on canals parallels that on city streets. Your canal cruise boat can get cut off by someone taking his boat too fast and almost cause an accident, and yet have the audacity to yell at your boat for almost hitting him. Your captain also doesn't mind getting out of his seat to go to the door and yell something back while the boat drifts sideways towards the side of the canal. A saving grace is the lack of land to walk in between, meaning canal-rage is restricted to the old-fashioned means of firing cannonballs back and forth rather than fisticuffs.

11. People aren't kidding when they say the trams stop for no one. I almost saw someone die.

12. Even if you don't do drugs, particularly care for prostitution or live sex shows, or even drink while there, the party atmosphere in the city is contagious. Just being around it all, regardless of all the problems your trip may have had, makes for a great experience. Highly recommended to all.

Thursday, June 5, 2008


It's sort of funny because when you learn about the Cold War in history textbooks, you tend to forget that countries are more than their leaders. Many citizens live in these countries, and often their views will be quite different from that of the politicians. What does get mentioned is often partially propaganda, saying how the communists were evil and all the people lived in destitution, unhappy with their situation but unable to do anything about it.

I've grown to appreciate a good example of how this was not necessarily the case. People from former East Germany talk of Ost-algia, the desire to have things back the way they were before reunification. Things were more reliable, more liberal, and supposedly people were more friendly. Now there's definitely a grass-is-greener effect occurring here, but if people really long for the former communist rule, perhaps it wasn't quite as bad as we make it out to be....?

Once I finish with this time machine, I'll be able to know first-hand. I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Beethoven - wasn't that the name of a movie about some dog?

So after buying a rail ticket to and from Köln (Cologne) for this past weekend, I discovered there was essentially no place to stay for the Saturday night, necessitating a journey to Bonn, to find a bed. Finding my way there temped me a couple of times to just find a park bench somewhere, as it would be both easier and cheaper to do that and involve less travel time and one less time staying on the train at the end of the line. Fortunately, what kept me from doing that was the fact that I'm not an idiot.

This cloud did manage to have a silver lining in that while Bonn was super sketched out in the evening, with lots of drunk teenagers and "45-but-still-acting-like-teenagers" running around, the next morning, it turned out to be a really nice small city with lots of culture, nice buildings, and a lot of quaint European character. Gigantic flea market and all. Which is more like what I expected of the former capital, if not that it would be a little bigger.

Wandering the city, I came across an old cemetery from the 1800's where among others who I largely did not know, you can find the graves of Beethoven's mother, Wilhelm Busch, and Schumann. I never would have planned to go there so having some free time to wander really payed off.

One thing that was really cool was Beethoven's house, where he was born and spent his first years, and is now a museum. You can really see what humble roots one of the great ones have come from. The ceilings were rather low, the floorboards creaked incessantly, and the place was insufferably hot, even just in the early summer now.

When I grow up to be a world-renowned scientist, Hollywood action star, star hockey player, chess grand master, billionaire businessman, and leader of a small country, I hope that people may do the same at my house. And hopefully some historical society will pay my folks lots and lots of money to use it to display all my trophies and awards. Oh I love being arrogant. So much fun.