Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Berlin: The end of Scooter v2.0

The top of Potsdamer Platz's highest tower glows green in Berlin's chilly night air. This photo embodies a few components of Berlin's psyche: architectural beauty and art, the contrast between the old and the new, and a keen drive toward the future (U-Bahn station, Berlin, Germany)

Berlin was the final stop on my trip around the world. I arrived in the evening to the Berlin Hauptbahnhof on the (allegedly) high-speed train from Amsterdam.

But before I go any further, I want to mention that the German language threw me for a bit of a loop when I arrived. There are some reallyreallyreallylongwords in German (Hauptbahnhof for instance) which are a little hard to remember. It took a little while before I started recognizing that these reallylongwords are composed of separate, smaller words. For instance Hauptbahnhof is really three words: haupt+bahn+hof (which mean respectively, Main+Rail+yard). Once I realized this, getting around got a bit simpler.

Through an amazing coincidence of good luck, my friends Martin and Claudia (who I met in Peru) were waiting on the platform IMMEDIATELY OUTSIDE OF MY train car's door! They had no idea my car number or seat number, and I had no idea where they'd be. I literally tumbled off the train and into their arms! Cool welcome!

We said our greetings and caught up while on our way to their home in the former East Berlin. If you ever get the opportunity to meet Martin & Claudia, don't pass it up.

WHAT could be cooler than CIRCULAR elevators? That's right, almost NOTHING! (Hauptbahnhof, Berlin, Germany)

Their apartment in the former East Germany was wonderful. Behind this beautifully framed carved wooden door was a spacious, spotless, and cozy home: high molded ceilings, bright sunlight streaming in through big windows onto wooden and cork floors, and something delicious always making heady scents in some stage of preparation on the stovetop in the kitchen. Martin--as I knew before I came--is an amazing cook. (Outside the apartment, East Berlin, Germany)

Although they both were fully employed, Martin and Claudia, individually and collectively, took me around the city to see many of the city's amazing sites.

Kaiser Wilhelm memorial Church, at the end of Kurf├╝rstendamm (Boulevard of the Electors) aka "Ku-Damm" shopping street. It was bombed on November 23, 1943. It is crumbling, but is kept as a rememberence of the havoc of war. On the near left, glowing blue through small panes, is the new church (West Berlin, Germany)

Looking toward the roof of Potsdamer Platz (Berlin, Germany)

The "Exhibition Hall" of the German Historical Museum. Designed by IM Pei. Gorgeous! (Berlin, Germany)

In front of the TV Tower (East Berlin, Germany)

Unfortunately, the Reichstag dome was closed for maintenance on the day I was there, BUT admission was free, the view was great, and it's darned cool from the outside, too! (Reichstag, Berlin, Germany)

The tourism department projects words onto the Brandenburg Gate, "Be amazing, be fabulous, be Berlin". It rings of "something lost in translation" to me. (Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, Germany)

Sexy sexy sexAY! Undulating building off KuDamm (Berlin, Germany)

Part of the Potsdamer Platz development, this uber cool hirise caught my eye (Berlin, Germany)

During the holidays, Berlin puts on a light show. The Berlin Cathedral was lit with blue light on the top and a laser painted the green dots all over. I initially didn't like it, but as I kept looking, it grew on me more and more. It is a combination of a very old cathedral, and very modern lighting. A very cool effect (Berlin, Germany)

Martin and Claudia took me to a nightclub and inside they had this great lighting effect projected onto the wall that looked like leaves, undulating on the surface of the water, then sinking. Totally gorgeous! (Berlin, Germany)

The following day was very grey, very cold--bleak. On this day, Claudia and I went to the concentration camp closest to Berlin: Sachsenhausen (Say "Saxon-housen"). It is located in Oranienburg, north of Berlin.

This is an overhead "map" of Sachsenhausen and the surrounding area. Orianenburg was the operation center of all concentration camps and Sachsenhausen served as a training facility for officers sent to command other concentration camps. The triangular section in the center is where all those interred were kept. The triangular shape was intended to provide extra security: a guard with a rifle in the central tower could shoot anyone at any point inside.

Sachsenhausen was intended to be a holding facility but not an extermination camp.

"Work will set you free" Entrance gate to the concentration camp (Sachsenhausen, Berlin, Germany)

Prisoners entering the "Neutrale Zone" would be shot without warning by the camp's soldiers. Beyond the gravel area is razor wire and a lethal electric fence. (Sachsenhausen, Orianenburg, Germany)

In Germany they first came for the Communists, 
and I didn't speak up 
because I wasn't a Communist. 

Then they came for the socialists, 
and I didn't speak up 
because I wasn't a socialist. 

Then they came for the unionists, 
and I didn't speak up 
because I wasn't a unionist. 

Then they came for the Jews, 
and I didn't speak up 
because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for me — and by that time 
no one was left to speak up.

Pastor Martin Niemoeller

As Claudia and I walked the grounds, I felt a reverence at the gravity of this place and the sting of its history. And as I tightened my scarf against the cold wind, I wondered to myself... "Who WERE these people and how could they be so cruel?"

And the answer came to me shortly thereafter. And it scared me.  
Hitler did not act independently in carrying out the holocaust. He convinced a large number of otherwise SANE people that what he was doing was right.  

It could have been ME.

And I wondered... I look Aryan enough that I would not have been in danger based on my appearance or my religion. How would I have felt when told I should join the SS? Would I have considered it an honor to "serve my country"?

How did Hitler do it? The same way it's done today:
  1. Have charisma
  2. Reward those who follow you
  3. Vilify/punish/kill those who do not follow you
  4. Discourage independent thinking
  5. Start small, build incrementally
  6. Preach that you are a superior people
  7. Preach that the minority you wish to oppress is inferior (and that depriving rights to them is analogous to denying the right to eat at the dinner table to a dog)
  8. Continue upping the ante (restrict them: take away more rights: deny them the right of privacy... disallow them from leaving the country)

SS Troupe barracks (Sachsenhousen, Orianenburg, Germany)

In the memorial garden, on the grounds of Sachsenhausen (Sachsenhausen, Germany)

My chill from the day ran deep
(Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, Berlin, Germany)

Germany is a dynamic place and has made many changes throughout the years. This is the marker for the Berlin Wall, which once separated East and West Berlin. It reads, "Berlin Wall 1961-1989" (Berlin, Germany)

Across the city, where the former wall stood is now this stone marker. In this picture, it can be seen across the sidewalk, the bike path, and the street. This is one more historical reminder of how much things have changed in Germany [The rectangular metal tile in the middle of the grey sidewalk is the same shown in the blow-up above] (Where East Meets West, Berlin, Germany)

Claudia is from East Berlin, and on a day out riding bikes and exploring, we came across a retro/antique shop. Inside were these very cool plastic plates, cups, saucers, etc. To me, they looked almost like a play-set. Claudia told me that these were the cups, saucers, and plates that EVERYONE had in East Berlin when she was growing up. Plastic was all that was available, and all meals, from casual to formal, were served on only these (Antique shop, Berlin, Germany)

This picture is cool because it shows one of the great ideas I saw in Berlin and also in Barcelona: Rental bicycles. Martin and Claudia had two bikes, and there were three of us, so I am holding onto my rental bike. It felt quite sturdy, was well-maintained, and it had a scooped tail end. Note the performer making bubbles in the background with two wands. (Berlin, Germany)

On our bike tour around the city, we stopped for coffee down a graffiti/art filled alley (Berlin, Germany)

Graffiti Artwork (Down an alley in Berlin, Germany)

Graffiti Artwork (Down an alley in Berlin, Germany)

The German state is serious about art: it employs artists to work on projects around the city. In the alley coffee shop, this kinetic sculpture delighted me (Down an alley in Berlin, Germany)

On one of my final nights in Berlin. We headed to a great wine bar and met up with some friends of Martin & Claudia. Some of them were also fluent in Spanish, German, and English. I am always impressed by their ability to seamlessly flow into another language. Most of the time they spoke in English (even to one another) out of consideration to me (Berlin, Germany)

M & C in front of the World Time Clock (Alexanderplatz, Berlin, Germany)

Although I could hardly repay their kindness with a single dinner, I took Martin and Claudia out to eat on our final night together. Here we share our final toast. Thank you guys!!! (Berlin, Germany)

One of my final memories of Berlin (yes, I have a taste for the absurd). This lady is taking her favorite plant on a trip somewhere (To the Airport! Berlin, Germany)

At the airport, I checked in to my AirBerlin/LTU flight (connecting in Frankfurt). I had a hard time finding the gate, then they gave me a hard time and swabbed my breathing machine (YAY! LAST TIME I HAVE TO DEAL WITH THAT!!!!), and I waited.

And after transferring in Frankfurt, I knew, as I walked through the threshold and down the tube toward the airplane door, that the next soil I would put foot on was American.

I was going home. Home. Yes--home. For the first time in over a year, I was going home. During my trip, I was so busy getting from place to place, dealing with daily shock/horror/delight and being "in the moment" that I frankly hadn't thought much about being home. And my emotions started to burble forth from out from the depths.

We landed.

At the airport (and even now as I recall the event), when I got to passport control, the agent stamped my passport and said, "Welcome home"... Never before had two words impacted me so significantly: I cried.

It is an amazing thing to be an American. America is such a tremendous country. It has flaws--many of them--but compared to most other countries I have seen, the United States has a lot of things going right that so many others do not.

And the chance to do what I had just done--travel around the world--is a chance 99% of the world will never have. Most people living in third-world nations couldn't even conceive of the idea, much less achieve it.

To be sure--I worked hard and saved for many years to do what I did--but I recognize the fact that I was born in America as one of those significant factors that allowed me to have these experiences.

I know I am a lucky man.

When I left the country over a year ago, I spent one day with family in Los Angeles. I book-ended my trip by finishing where I'd started: in the place of my birth. I landed in Los Angeles, where I was greeted by my father and Lillian. Here Lil and I make my first breakfast back on American soil: Matzo and eggs! YUM! (Los Angeles, California, United States of America)

Ding! And with that--it's done: Monika met me at the Phoenix airport with a smile and a bouquet of flowers. [The last time I was in this airport was over a year ago when my brother dropped me off to depart on my trip. I had to call him to return to the airport because my sleep-deprived mind had forgotten my passport on the car seat.] (Home: Phoenix, Arizona)

When I arrived back to Phoenix, something very big and significant was over. Scooter v2.0 was done.

I have done things and had experiences that few ever have, or ever will. The person I AM--is not the same. It will take me years to sort it all out completely. I still feel a little numb--I know I haven't yet felt the full depth or breadth of what I have just completed.

But for now, it would be time to re-connect with family and friends,
enjoy the holidays, and engage in the final part of my sabbatical. 

It is time to collect my thoughts, draw some preliminary conclusions, and begin work on my next big project: creating Scooter v3.0.

Posted: 2009 Jan 29

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

London to Amsterdam take II

My initial post did not include pictures... So I wanted to include some of the wonderful sights along with my gab!

Sunset turns the sky and its reflection in the Thames a beautiful rose hue. The left tower of the bridge captures the final light of day. Picture taken from the "Queen´s Walk" on the south side of the Thames. Barely visible on the lower RHS is the roundish and stunning City Hall building (Tower Bridge, London, England)

We happened to be in the area on the one day of the month the City Hall building is open to the public, so we took advantage! This is the view from the main conference room up. We are looking at the bottom side of swoopy spiral staircases all the way to the top of the 10-level building. Architecturally, this building is an absolute stunner. If there was ever a question that London has money to burn, this building answers the question loudly in the affirmitive. (City Hall Building, London, England)

Lizzy and me (Somewhere in the London Underground, London, England)

I went on a walking tour around the "Bank" exit from the tube. I just happened upon this building, where it looked like they were preparing for a concert: They were setting up stage lighting to highlight the columns, they were putting up tables outside... So I asked. It turns out that this night, the heads of England were meeting here to decide what to do with their own enormous "Bail out the banks" package. Interesting that while deciding what to do with taxpayer money, they got to stroke their chins over an expensive lobster dinner and clink goblets of pricy wine while the taxpayers look on in dismay about the future of the financial system... Did someone say excesses in the banking industry created this problem? (Just outside the Bank of England, London, England)

Me and Lizzy on one of our fabulously cheap nights out! Got the cheapest tix available for Wicked for 15£ (then moved to the expensive 60£ empty seats!), got half-priced dinner and dessert with coupons (£1.83 each), and avoided getting stiffed on a cup of water (5£) by grabbing an empty cup from the bar. This night of fabulousness was valued at nearly 75£ (122$), but we paid 38£, and the memories? PRICELESS!! (At the Burger King inside the Victoria Station, across the street from the Victoria Apollo, where Wicked is playing!)

Oh, yeah... And Wicked was good too! :)

On one of my final nights in London, Lizzy, my friend Marc (a Brit whom I had met in Madrid) and I went out to dance at the very famous/infamous club "Heaven". It was owned by Richard Branson--so if you work for Virgin (Atlantic, Mobile, Music, Galactic, etc) you get in free! Although the club is somewhat "legendary", what we found there was too much artifical smoke, expensive drinks, sticky floors, and ancient shirtless men doused in glitter (Heaven, London, England)

Okay, here´s a little thought exercise... Take a look at this URL (it details the Virgin Empire, "Virgin Group"). The list is ENORMOUS of all the companies Virgin Group controls. It is diversified into so many different industries, each consisting of major companies.

The Virgin Group is valued at approximately 5 billion £ (8.15 billion USD). In short, it is massive, massive, massive.

The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 authorizes around 700 billion USD. So, to give a little perspective, the US bailout package is worth approximately 86 Virgin Groups.

Mika, Rolf, and two other friends at dinner my first night in Amsterdam. Rolf met me at the tram stop and walked me back to his place. Rolf and his girlfriend (Maaike) had prepared a fabulous dinner for us! It consisted of a green salad, green beans, linguini with cream sauce, and broiled tuna! Yum! Later that night the other guests departed, Rolf handed me the key and said, "see you in 2 days!" WHOA!

I met Rolf in Arequipa, Peru, in February 2008. We then traveled to Puno, Lake Titicaca, Cuzco and Machu Pichu together. He's a very nice guy. When I left Cuzco to go to Lima, Rolf stayed on in Cuzco to do volunteer work.

Near the Anne Frank house (For English speakers, her name is two syllables: Ahh-nuh). This picture shows the typical tall and skinny row houses crowded together and perilously perched to fall in the canals (It cannot be seen from this photo, but when walking by, one can see that some of the facades from some of these buildings ARE angled toward the water and are actually falling into the canal! (Amsterdam, Holland)

The Dutch appreciate good modern architecture. I filled my lenses (eyes and camera!) with TONS of gorgeous modern buildings! (Amsterdam, Holland)

A bridge over one of the Amsterdam canal rings. The larger ships cannot pass until the bridge lifts out of the way. An alarm sounds, guard arms come down to stop anyone from passing, and then the roadway lifts. Really cool to watch!! (Amsterdam, Holland)

No, you´re not seeing things: this shop really DOES have cows on the ceiling! (Amsterdam, Holland)

The Red-Light-District without the red light. The blacklight windows with red porchlights are the marker of the district. In the windows, scantily clad ladies wink at passerbys... One of the empty rooms had no curtains so I took this picture: a rare look INSIDE the rooms... And you can see a bed, a climate control unit, and perhaps most important: a fire detector. This IS a ligitimate business, after all!! (Red Light District, Amsterdam, Holland)

One-shot summary of Holland: Clouds, Windmills, Canals, and hoards of bicyclists! (Amsterdam, Holland)

I heard a noise, looked up, and saw this accident: the dust from the collision is still in the air. Nobody was hurt, luckily! (Not obeying traffic rules, Amsterdam, Holland)

In a land where your bike might be parked in a rack with 3,000 others (no, I´m not exaggerating!), it helps to personalize your bicycle! (Amsterdam, Holland)

I took 2 days to visit my friend Anne in Utrecht, 30 minutes away from Amsterdam by train. The view from her window is directly into the treetops of deciduous trees above a canal, and just looking out the window in the morning was SO NICE!!! Downtown in Utrecht, there is a huge bell tower and magnificent foilage turning colors. As has tended to be my experience in general, I like Utrecht a BIT more than Amsterdam. I REALLY like the smaller towns!! (Utrecht, Holland)

The view down the street toward the cathedral, complete with flying buttresses to dispurse the weight of the roof out and down (Utrecht, Holland)

One night Anne and I went out to a festival, and after a beer or two, we started playing around with the camera. (Utrecht, Holland)

Anne offers a traditional Dutch fried fish bits. They were really yummy! (Utrecht, Holland)