Saturday, March 28, 2009

Art and Architecture

It's our last week (actually today is the last day) in Berlin and a lot is going on, including my last time (sob) around the Schlacten See today. I walked it due to a hamstring injury but had a great time watching the dogs and the ducks... a few days ago I led a tour of post-reunification "starchitecture" sites in Berlin. Karla, Ruth, and Birgit came along; I only photographed one site (Jahn's Sony Center) due to the misty/rainy weather but we also visited Frank Gehry's Deutsche Bank, Eisenman's Holocaust Memorial, Libeskind's Jewish Museum, and Nouvel's Galeries Lafayette. On the way to the Jewish Museum, we stumbled on the ruins of the old Anhalter Bahnhof, the former departure point for Jews deporting to Theresienstadt (in Czech Republic).

Yesterday my Media Law and Ethics class presented their projects, public artworks that challenged our interpretation of Intellectual Property (IP) laws; the students also wrote a paper and had to defend their artworks against a panel of critics. Here are photos of the projects, by Ruth Martin, Jason Shutts, Karla Macedo, and Kat Rdoltskaya:

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Garmisch-Partenkirchen and Munich

For the last "open weekend" I went to Garmisch-Partenkirchen and Munich:

I’m sitting in my room at the “Post Hotel” in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, a ski resort town in the Voralpen, or the beginning of the Alps, on the German-Austrian border. The hotel was built in the mid-16th century, and it’s on a pedestrian street across from a church. The town is pretty much set up for tourists, (but I am a tourist so…) with decoratively painted buildings and tiny winding cobblestone streets. Awwww…. “Winding” means they wind up and down hills that lead to the mountains where the town ends. I intend to go hiking tomorrow, though the weather is pretty sucky (heavy snow). The “Zugspitze,” the highest peak in Germany, is near here, and I can take a funicular up the mountain.

The train ride was about 7 hours in total, going through Fulda and Munich. I love trains. Especially when the scenery is like this. The German ICE (Inter City Express) trains are immaculate, comfortable, silent, and FAST. I don’t know how fast, I’ll look it up. Really fast. And as you suspect they run on time. To the minute, and if they’re a minute off they apologize. You are provided a schedule with exact times the train arrives in each station, accompanied by a list of connecting trains, local-regional-distance that you can take from that particular station at that time. There are a variety of (2nd class) seating arrangements, from a private room seating 6, to rows of seats facing one direction, to 4-seats facing each other with a table in between. I believe 1st class has electricity and internet in addition.

Anyway, back to the hotel. I am listening to the quarter hour bells from the church across the street. My room, a single at this modestly priced hotel, is lined with carved wood – all walls, ceiling, everything. The paneling comes from an 18th century structure in another village. It’s small, with just what I need (Simpsons on the TV, in German) and a balcony that looks out over the Alps.

Ate dinner at a touristy Gasthof, where there were traditional dance demonstrations and a guy playing the electronic organ. You know what kind of music. I chose a Knödel Sauerkraut Schinken dish, it was good!

Second Day

Breakfast this morning was held in the small dining room, see photos. Obviously antique, the high ceiling was lined with deer horns (called racks?) and the room’s perimeter has benches with tall woodworked benches. Breakfast was delicious, but not outrageous: high-fat yogurt, fruit, fresh ham and cheeses, handmade jams, hard cooked eggs, Semmel rolls and Bauernbrot. Each table got its own pot full of appropriately strong coffee. It seemed the other guests were skiers and elderly couples.

I inquired from the front desk about the good hiking paths. The weather was lousy, the reception guy pointed out, but I could find paths on both the Garmisch and Partenkirchen side (I am in Partenkirchen). I put on my fat down coat and took my umbrella and camera: not regulation hiking gear, but it would have to do. I found the first path by a swift-flowing stream coming from the snowmelt on the mountain. Though there was a light rain, there was still snow on the mountain, especially further up. In minutes I was too warm, and wished that I’d worn my lighter jacket (I brought this along so I can run Munich). I did hear early on two very loud booms, separated by a few seconds, that shook the ground and I wonder if they were avalanches. The booms were followed by the sound of helicopter motors… at any rate the trail was well-marked after the initial ascent and the views were breathtaking, despite the low cloud cover and light rain. I walked for a couple of hours, taking lots of photos and videos that I will post here. I was “Grüss Gott”-ed twice! A couple of men wore Lederhosen.

Having satisfied my curiosity about hiking, I set to finding a cable car to bring me up to a higher peak. The woman at the ticket counter flattered me about my stuttered German, and explained that the Zugspitze and other high cable cars were not running due to storms on the mountains. So I chose to take the local train to the Hausberg cable car, which went up a lower mountain that would in any case be shrouded in a cloud. It was pretty fun, and I had a Glühwein at the end and spent some time watching skiers and snowboarders come down from the summit.

So I had lunch at an Asian restaurant, where I thought there’d be some chance for a vegetable. I was right.

Later on I took another long walk: the mountains weren’t so overcast this time and everywhere I looked was some other view that was just so impressively beautiful. It also reminded me of being in Tucson when I saw the mountains for the first time. Children playing in a snowfield high above the town. Horses. Dogs.

Dinner (wienerschnitzel and warm potato salad, Austrian white wine) at a nearby Gasthof was shared with a group of 4 Americans from New Jersey /Ramstein AFB in Germany (green salad, Coke). About halfway through the meal a group of 20 Norwegians on a business holiday (see Lars Von Trier’s “Boss of it All”) took their tables, with one young man obviously very –uh- happily standing up repeatedly to toast the others and something else, a garbled Norwegian idea of a German drinking song – and we wondered where they were from? Soon to find out, a (tall, handsome) member of their group waited till the Americans cleared out, then sat next to me declaring “I would like to enjoy you for the evening.” Well he WAS tall and handsome so despite the humorous interpretation of how to pick up a woman in English, I joined his table for a bit. Partially because I’d just seen “Boss of it All,” I was really curious about a whole office being obligated to go on holiday together - they all worked for a bank and because they’d had a successful year this was their treat. No spouses, just folks from the office. The man seated to my right told me all about ice fishing and elk hunting in Norway. I left the restaurant before things got out of hand… probably they did…

Third, Fourth, Fifth Days

The sky was clear today, warm weather (5 degrees or so) and though my train for Munich leaves at 10:04 I eat an early breakfast and head back up the mountain for more photos.

The weather in Munich was also heavenly and though I took no photos I spent a pleasant couple of days visiting the Pinakothek der Moderne and Haus der Kunst, also seeing my first St Patrick’s Day parade (that was really funny, they blessed the shamrock in German). I stayed with my friend Jürgen in the suburb of Hartof and took a couple of long runs, getting lost and asking lots of very old people where I was. In this way I saw a lot of Harthof and Feldmoching, in addition to running around a beautiful little lake. Munich= nice people, clean, beautiful city.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Some Talk and Some Norwegians

Yesterday there was a special meeting of our student group with a group of journalism students from Norway: 35 students from the Norwegian Institute of Journalism in Oslo, and their instructor, Birgit Heitfeld's colleague Nils Indahl.

At two sessions, we discussed the German business climate/situation and talked about the relationship between Berlin/Germany and the United States. The first of the two sessions was held at the Bundespressekonferenz, a large, beautiful, press-owned building where journalists host politicians for press conferences. Our speaker was Daniel Kriener from the German Foreign Office. The second session was held at the L-4 Akademie (click for pictures), where our speaker was Wolfgang Müller from the Institute for Free Enterprise (IUF).

After the talks the Americans and the Norwegians (most of us) and a couple Germans shared a beer and a nosh at the nearby beergarden. I compared lutefisk experiences with some of the students. Dad: did you know you're supposed to eat it with lots of condiments? Bacon cooked crisp, green peas, and turnip puree among them. It tastes awful without condiments! And we thought it just tasted awful!

Photos to follow.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Group Trip to Prague

During these study abroad quarters the group goes on one or two trips together. This quarter we took the train to Prague. It would not be out of line to say this was a highlight of the whole, spectacular quarter. From our hotel (Metropol-excellent) to our guide (Milan Vitek-ditto) to our professional visits [Symbio, Czech TV, MF-DNES (Czech Republic's largest newspaper), and the Art Academy)... it was a fantastic weekend. Add Prague's affordable eating and drinking, and amazing architecture, and even passable weather... well... let's go back... here are some photos. I haven't the energy to label each, but you can visit my facebook page for the full details. And more photos.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Weekend in Budapest

Last weekend Celia and I made a 4-day trip to Budapest. I don't remember how long I've wanted to go there; I was anticipating elaborate architecture and jewel-colored thermal baths. For the baths, the Hotel Gellert Spa did not disappoint. A thermal spa isn't much like Canyon Ranch. Instead of calesthenics, you sort of laze around in water that is geothermically heated and supposedly the minerals in the water are good for you. What do I know. In any case we managed the language barrier (Hungarian? Koskonom means thank you. That's all I could retain) we booked massages and a manicure for me, a pedicure for Celia. The manicure featured all sorts of sparkeldy nailpolish, I chose pink. I am looking at it now. It is fairy princess my little pony pink.

Our hotel, Soho Boutique Hotel, was on the Pest side of the river. The hotel, newly finished in August, was staffed with handsome young men whose English was perfect. They encouraged us to ask for recommendations and advice, which we did several times a day. Very helpful, very nice room, great breakfast, I recommend it.

So we mostly wandered around, maps in hand, or took one of the four transport modes: Underground, Tram, Street Train, or bus. Like most european cities, Budapest has a lot to teach the US about public transportation. Otherwise the cars all seem to be burning diesel fuel which made the air kind of nasty at rush hour. The city is all you think it is: cosmopolitan, ancient, elaborate-amazing, and there are remnants everywhere of the Soviet era. Fabulous food. We shopped at tiny grocery stores also every day for snacks and mystery food.

We visited more museums than I will remember here: The Textile Museum, the Applied Arts Museum (in a fabulous tiled art nouveau building), the National (art) Museum, the History Museum, the Jewish Museum... the Castle, the embassies, the bridges (all), the Central Market (see photos). Well. Here are the photos:

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Museums and FOOD

A couple of days later Celia and I visited the German History Museum in Berlin on Unter den Linden. We dallied at the ancient history part, not realizing that history goes all the way to uh... something like yesterday... so I advise anyone visiting Berlin to go to this museum more than once!

Later that day Birgit Heitfeld had arranged a German cooking lesson for the gang at the Kochbox in the Kulturbrauerei complex in Berlin. We spent the afternoon cooking klöpfen, kartoffelsuppe, several kinds of meat I don't know what, two kinds of sauerkraut... well I don't know what everything was called. But it was a hit with everyone. Some pics: