Wednesday, August 16, 2006


Now that I'm back in the US after an incredible time in Berlin, I just want to thank everyone for reading the blog. I created it just to share some stories and photos with friends back home, but when all was said and done 14,000+ people visited my blog -- from all over the world -- in just a few weeks. It was amazing to hear from all of you who left comments -- and if you didn't, please do! These were 6 of the best weeks of my life, and I'm glad you could come along for the ride.

Happy Trails --

Sunday, August 06, 2006

East Siiiiiiide

Here are some photos from the East-Side Gallery, which is the longest remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall, in all of its graffiti-filled glory.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Potsdamer Platz

Potsdamer Platz was a central hub of Berlin nightlife in the 1920’s and 1930’s, but was heavily damaged during WWII. It was further destroyed in 1961 as the area straddled East and West Berlin, and any remaining buildings were leveled to build the wall and the no-man’s land. Beginning in the 1990’s, the Potsdamer Platz area became the biggest construction site in Europe as new buildings and plazas were constructed. Today it is once again a central area of Berlin. What really appeals to me about the place is how well designed it is: it is a great example of mixed-use planning where there is a combination of residential, commercial, restaurants, entertainment, and transportation facilities all intermingled. Further, there’s a great interplay between private and public space. The Sony Center, for example is both public in that it is unbounded and allows free movement and public activity, yet it is private in that it is somewhat confined and contains private industry – restaurants, cinemas, and business offices. This interplay is, I think, representative of the best of urban design. In the rest of the Platz, I like that they have reserved some space for a grassy park, as well as for a man-made lake – areas that surely could have been quite profitable had another commercial building been built. Some Pictures:

The roof of the Sony Center during the day, and then lit up at night:

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Berlin at dusk

The follow-up to the “Praha at Dusk” photos, here are some pictures from Berlin at dusk (and into the night). Thanks for all the comments, it’s really fun reading what everyone has to say, and seeing that people literally from all over the world are reading the blog. I really appreciate it.

The Alexander Platz S-bahnhof:

The Brandenburg Gate:

Postcards on sale all along Unter Den Linden:

Berlin City Opera:

Berliner Dom:

Deutsches Historiches Museum:

Unter Den Linden:

“Enjoying the view”:

Saturday, July 22, 2006

There is a God...and his name is Hasselhoff

Germans, it seems to me, are known for three things: their beer, their efficiency and their inexplicable love for all things David Hasselhoff. Throughout my weeks in Berlin I have enjoyed the beer very much, been impressed with the efficiency of all things Deutsch, but only now, after a trip to the record store inside the Galleria Kaufhaus, can I truly say “Ich bin ein Berliner.”

I went to buy some CD’s of the German artists I always heard about in German class – Die Artzin, Nina Hagen, Fanta Vier, etc. – but spent a good amount of time wandering around until I found my little slice of heaven: a David Hasselhoff 2-CD set (with bonus DVD!) all for under 20 Euros. This piece of musical-gold features Hasselhoff performing – nay, improving – such classics as “Rhinestone Cowboy,” “Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head,” and “New York, New York.” I would write more, but I have a date with musical brilliance, so if you’ll excuse me, it’s Hasselhoff time. (Yes, I really did buy it).

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Berliner Baere

The symbol of Berlin, the bear, can be seen throughout the city: on seals, on flags, and, most significantly this summer, in the form of 8 foot tall painted statues throughout the city. The main collection of these painted bears is headquartered at the famous Humboldt Universitaet, the university where Einstein, Marx, and Engels, among others studied. The courtyard at Humboldt holds so much history; it’s the spot where the infamous book burning occurred under Hitler (for which there is a wonderfully poignant memorial: a sheet of clear glass built into the cobblestones where one can look down below ground and see empty book shelves, alongside a quote from Heinrich Heine which says when you destroy books, you destroy humanity – though it sounds much more poetic auf Deutsch) where books written by Jews, Communists, and others were forever destroyed. There, in that very courtyard is a ring of painted bears – about 150 in all – each decorated by the different countries of the world. The bears range from humorous – the Cuban bear with a cigar in its mouth – to sublime – the Japanese bear in all white, except for a red circle on its paw – to the strangely abstract – Canada’s broken pottery covered bear. Initially organized for the World Cup, but still standing now, it is as much a fascinating cultural-political installment in which one can observe the differences in how countries around the world choose to represent themselves, as it is visually stunning. It also serves as yet another example of the layers of meaning that permeate all throughout Berlin; in just the last century, that square has been host to some of the world’s greatest thinkers, suffered one of the world’s worst attacks on academia and social thought, has been held hostage during the Cold War as Berlin lay divided, and now, represents a celebration of the world cup, the countries of the world, and truly of the city of Berlin.

On a side note, I was pleasantly surprised to see that this blog has been named a “blog of note” by blogger, and I am thrilled to be receiving comments from people reading the blog from all around the world. I started this blog just to share stories with family and friends back home, but I am really excited to be able to share stories and pictures of perhaps my favorite city in the world, Berlin, with all of you. It’s been great reading everyone’s comments; please continue to do so…thank you!

Now, onto the bears!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006


One of the things I remembered from my last visit to Prague – besides how to do a great impression of the metro voice announcing stops – is how difficult it is to leave the train station. In order to get to our hostel we needed to buy a 90 minute pass for the tram; the problem, however, is that in order to buy it you need small change or coins, and when you convert or withdraw Czech Krones, you only get big (500-1000) bills, when you only need about 20CZK to buy tickets. To make matters worse, no one in the train station wants to give change, so it is consistently difficult to get the right Krone denomination to leave. Add to that the difficulty of communicating, especially to the Metro help kiosk, which has only a tiny hole to see through to the inside which is located right at stomach height, forcing the questioner to bend over awkwardly all while stumbling to ask someone who doesn’t speak much English for directions. We went to purchase a drink at a convenience store – a drink that turned out to be licorice cola – in order to break the big bills and get tram tickets. Finally we got our tickets and were on our way.

Prague has a fantastic public transportation system, consisting of an underground metro with wonderfully long and speedy escalators, as well as a tram system. We had directions to the hostel which told us to take Tram #5 towards Lipanska. We found the stop, but were unsure of which direction to take the tram since it was unclear which stop was next. We hopped on the first #5, and took it two stops, until the conductor told us it was the end of the line and we had to get off. We got off, walked across the street to catch the tram going the other direction, only to see the conductor get out of the tram, take a cigarette break, and then come pick us up, on the very same tram, just a few minutes later.

The place where we stayed, Hostel Olet, was fantastic. It is a school nine months of the year, but converts to a hostel for the summer months. We slept in a classroom decorated with pictures drawn by elementary school aged kids, and got free breakfast in the morning and a free “welcome beer.” My first sign as to how gorgeous Prague is was when I looked out the window in the men’s room, where I saw steeples, spires, and red tiled roves covering buildings, the colors of which represented the entire pastel spectrum. If the bathroom view is that impressive, you know the city from ground level has to be even more so.

Friday evening we took the Metro to the old town and walked around, taking in the sights. Following dinner at a nice outdoor café, we walked to the Vltava River and then decided to journey alongside it. After just a couple hundred meters of traversing the river’s curves, we saw a number of people lined up outside a boat -- “Jazz Boat,” read the signs around the ship. After a bit of negotiation as to whether or not the boat trip would be worth 590 Krones, we decided to go for it, and grabbed ourselves seats on the top so that our view wouldn’t be obstructed. Performing that night was a jazz combo (piano, bass, drums) featuring a Czech woman who was a scat singer. Intrigued by the prospect of scat in Czech, we were pretty excited to see what the music would entail. In the end the music was only okay – occasionally the woman with bright red hair would get a bit out of control in her singing, pumping her fist in the air, once or twice actually hitting lights dangling above her, and even squeaking her voice – but the sights of sailing the river during dusk, sunset, twilight, and finally darkness was incredible. Already a beautiful city, when the sun is beginning to set, and the lights on buildings begin to turn on, Prague lights up both literally and figuratively and its beauty is shown off well from our view along the river.

On Saturday we wake up and head out to explore – what else? – a castle. After enjoying the panoramic views afforded us by the castle’s elevated stature in the city, we moved across the river to the “new town” – new by Prague standards means around the 1500’s – and looked for a place for lunch. We decided we wanted to try a real Czech place, as the city is truly overrun by tourists in the summer, and we wanted to get away from the crowds a bit. We found a menu at a small local pub where the writing was only in Czech – not one of these menus in four or five different languages. We figured out what chicken meant, so three of us ordered the dish where we recognized that word. The other two took random stabs at the menu. Our first dish came out, a large disk obviously deep-fried, served with pomme frittes. Jayne cut the mysterious disk, only to find that the mystery fried item was a wheel of cheese – probably brie. The second dish came out, featuring deep fried mushrooms again with a side of pomme frittes. Finally our chicken dishes came out, and to no one’s surprise, it was fried chicken with a side of pomme frittes. Despite the homogeneity of fried foods, we were pretty happy that we managed to order Czech food from a waitress who only spoke Czech – no English or German – and that we had experienced a real Czech dining experience – even if the menu only consisted of “choose your favorite food and we’ll fry it for you.”

That evening we wandered back to the Old Town for dinner, stopping at El Mojito Café, a place whose menu featured 11 pages of mixed drinks, and one page of food, all of which were pasta dishes. Regardless, the drinks we had – ranging from cheap Pilsner, to grapefruit juice, to the requisite mojito – were all fantastic, as were the big bowls of pasta which were fresh and very garlicky. The waiter/chef/bartender was a guy from Slovakia, running the family establishment, and had named some of the drinks after his family members, some of whom lived in the Czech Republic, while others were in Italy.

After a leisurely dinner we went to the old town hall, where an astronomical clock that dates back to the 1300’s resides prominently. Every hour, on the hour, it is supposed to feature a show where the apostles more around the clock. Surely every guidebook to Prague must mention it, as when we went out minutes before 10PM, the square was packed with tourists. Lasting no more than 45 seconds, the clock rang and then a series of movements – which surely must have been impressive 500 years ago, but today is nothing a middle school industrial tech class couldn’t do – has to be the greatest joke on tourists out there. It’s one of those “must see” sights, but I don’t think many of us walked away too impressed.

As if providing a fitting bookend to our Prague experience, transportation issues plagued us on the way back from the hostel to the train station. Leaving on a Sunday, the tram schedule runs far less frequently than Monday through Saturday. As such, we just missed one tram, meaning that we had to wait 15 minutes to catch the next tram – all with just 45 minutes before our train to Berlin left. Luckily, a whole number of trams run throughout the city, so making use of the various other trams, we shadowed the path that the 5 tram would take, getting on and off a different tram for just a stop or two, inching ever closer to the “Ndrazi.” Finally, about 25 minutes left before our train left, we faced a dilemna: wait another few minutes for the tram to come take us another few stops and hope we get to the train station in time, or run to the nearby Metro and take the faster mode of transportation. We chose the latter, jogging through a small square, and down the speedy escalators, and finally jumping on the B-line which dropped us off right in the train station where we made it to our train-track with a good 15 minutes to spare.

On the train ride back I had the opportunity to converse in German with the woman sitting next to me. Immediately thrust into German mode when she asked me a question “auf Deutsch,” we ended up talking for a good while on many different topics – places to see in Germany, the renovation of Berlin airports, the country of Denmark, just to name a few. More important than the topics, however, was that the conversation was all in German, and I was able to understand most of what she was saying, and she seemed to always understand me, even if I had to explain things in a roundabout way with my limited vocabulary. Regardless, it was a great Deutschland experience, where I actually felt like a German, as this woman allowed me to speak German with her – even if my German was “nicht so gut.”

Some more photos from Prague:

Jayne, Katherine, Lauren, Dave and Me on the Jazz Boat

In the metro:

Inside Prague Castle:

A rainbow across the Charles Bridge:

The end of Charles Bridge:

Beware of Pickpockets!