I went to Kraków, Poland a couple of weeks ago. And I don’t know why, but I absolutely have not been able to jot down any thoughts on it. Maybe it was because the trip was so quick. Maybe my plans were so haphazard. Or maybe it was such a lopsided trip, with a heavy event in the middle and a bunch of dumb stuff on either side.

OK, here are some random thoughts:

  • SFO to Frankfurt to Krakow. I left Saturday night, spend four hours in Germany, ended up in Poland on Sunday night.
  • They named the airport after the Pope. They are really Catholic there. Really, really Catholic.
  • I stayed in the old town part of Krakow, in a ridiculously nice Hilton. The old town area looked like a Universal Studios backlot of a European city. Walking around at night was roughly as safe as walking in EPCOT center in the afternoon.
  • There was a pierogi place a block from the hotel and I ended up going there three times.
  • I went to this Galleria mall to buy a shirt for a formal dinner. It was the first time I’ve been to a mall since maybe Iceland. Totally uninterested. It sort of bothered me. So, that’s over.
  • Bailey was asking me every hour if I’d gotten kielbasa yet, so I went to some restaurant that I think was just called “kielbasa” and ordered a sampler platter. They brought out a platter for an entire basketball team, probably twelve pounds of meat, plus a loaf of bread, two salads, soups, pickles, and 17 other things. That broke me, and I skipped the food tour the next day because I could not deal.
  • I also went to some fancy foodie 9-course dinner, which was okay but not that inspired.
  • Went to Auschwitz. I can’t even write about this because it was so horrific and the whole thing is so politically charged. It was an incredibly heavy experience, and everyone should go.
  • I took this absurd tour of Nowa Huta, the old communist planned community built around the Lenin steel works. A guy dressed like a 90s chav showed up in a tiny Lada Niva car and acted like a Sacha Baron Cohen character. Seeing the old steel worker town was interesting, and it’s not terribly gentrified (yet).
  • I went to the aviation museum, which is one of the biggest in Europe. They had a ridiculous number of MiGs and other Soviet combat aircraft, at least two dozen. I think they had more MiG 21s next to each other than I’d ever seen at all other museums combined.
  • My flight out of Krakow left at 6am Saturday. Spent more time in Frankfurt, then landed in SFO at like 3pm.
  • Great trip, but way too short. I didn’t hit any museums, or the palace, or the salt mines. I also didn’t spent much time out of town. I feel like I could have easily spent another week here.

Wasn’t terribly happy with my pics, but I’ll go through them eventually. (I still haven’t posted pictures from Denver, Stockholm, or Iceland, so this may take a bit.)


I wonder if Albrecht Durer was a Pepsi or a Coke guy

OK, I’m back.

Went to bed at 8:00, Oakland time, and woke back up at 2:00, unable to sleep, so here I am, digging through the piles of trash from my luggage, trying to return the gadgets to their daily configuration so I can get back to The World by Monday.

The flight back yesterday was decent but long.  We boarded at about 1:00 Frankfurt time, and I had a “business economy” seat, which is slightly bigger than a coach seat, but still in a 3-wide row, with no special plugs or media viewers or amenities, beyond the meal that almost looked like chicken, and a dollar’s worth of Cokes.

Frankfurt was good.  It’s a weird city, trying to hold onto the past, while also trying to radically build itself into a Zurich-esque financial center, which in some senses it is.  I was struggling to name a sister city in the US with the same kind of feel and dilemma, and the best example I could think of is Charlotte, North Carolina, which is the second-largest banking center in the US, with rows of shiny chrome buildings downtown, and then sixteen blocks later is failed tobacco farms and abject poverty.  I don’t know what it’s like outside of Frankfurt, but I do know they have struggled over the years with their identity and people have pushed back against the image of “Mainhatten,” but the skyscrapers make it an interesting contrast to a lot of other European cities.

I’m not really in the mood for travel writing at 4:37 AM, so I’ll plow through a quick list of highlights:

  • Our hotel was decent but horrible.  I think it was designed by the people who engineer prisons to drive people insane.  Features included a single shower with all glass sides in the middle of the room, with water controls designed by Erno Rubik; a bowl sing that rang like a Tibetan gong when you looked at it wrong; a bathroom light you could only turn on from the outside, which results in blinding your partner during every nocturnal visit; an extensive “pillow menu” but the room only included a single pillow per person that wasn’t much more than a thick towel; etc etc etc.  It wasn’t a dump, but it tried too much to be quirky and modern, and it needed someone to QA it.
  • The German Museum of Architecture was my favorite, and the exhibit on postmodern architecture and Heinrich Klotz helped give me a lot of context on the city.
  • The Museum of Modern Art had an interesting exhibition on African artists which was themed on Dante’s Inferno, with three floors for heaven, purgatory, and hell. Unfortunately, it didn’t have any of the permanent collection out, and is supposed to have a second facility opening with that stuff out, but not until the fall.
  • The Museum for Communication is sort of a postal museum, and is a good place to see old telegraphs, radios, TVs, and mail equipment. I was hoping for more early computer stuff, like a West German VAX or something; I think my obsolete computer collection has more stuff in it.  Also there was a thing about the Bildschirmtext system, which was an early BBS-like system run by the post office on specialized hardware.  They had a couple of terminals, but no English text explaining it.  (google it for a deep k-hole, though.)
  • The Schirn had an art exhibit based on Infinite Jest.  It was… interesting.  It was more or less curated around ideas about the book, and was very meta and didn’t really have to do with the book, but did.  Or didn’t.  I need to learn more about art.

I ate a lot of asparagus for some reason.  Lots of sausage, too.  I am glad to be back on a regular diet.  It will be nice to get back to a regular sleep schedule, too.

I have a thousand pictures to sort through.  I’ll get to it.  First, back to writing.




Good to be back here.  I have walked a lot and ate too much and just bought a hundred pounds of art books.

OK, a bulleted list summary:

  • The flight out was brutal. Couldn’t sleep on the plane, other than little half-hour naps here and there. Left SFO at about 8:30 PM after a mechanical problem, got to Frankfurt at 4:00 PM the next day (but a nine-hour jump in there) and then had to wait for a 9:30.
  • I wandered the concourse, found a place to shower for 6 €. You got a little booth with a lock, a sink and counter in one half to put your stuff, and then a shower.  It’s Germany, so it’s all sterile and looks like an Ikea showroom.  I brought a change of clothes in my carry-on, and it was the best shower ever.
  • Screwed up meals royally – ate dinner at 4:00 the night before, skipped the meal on the plane, and then the “breakfast” we got was a dinner roll and a packet of jelly. Got off the plane and promptly ate an entire McDonald’s.
  • Handed over $200 at the airport exchange and got a handful of coins.  The Euro is doing much better than the buck.
  • I wandered around the airport and it was absolutely abandoned, then realized I was on the wrong level, and had to clear customs and go down one more level to the actual departures area.  Sat around and spent about a hundred bucks on hot dogs and tiny bottles of Coke.
  • Got to Nuremberg, got to the hotel, slept like a baby for eight hours.
  • Sarah had to go to her trade show on Saturday – she’s been at it all week.  So I loaded up what I still call the walkman (iPhone now, I guess) and walked about 2.5 miles west to an absolutely incredible little guitar store.  They had a ton of Fender basses.  I played some of the Custom Shop heavy relic Jazz basses and they were absolutely incredible.  Also played a Rickenbacker, which looked cool, but I found I am not a Ric guy.
  • Walked around Nuremberg for a long while, taking pics.  There was some kind of vegetarian festival going on, which was interesting.
  • Walked to the big train station, ate, dumped more dollars, bought some NyQuil, walked back to the hotel.
  • Went out for dinner with Sarah’s work people and spouses and ate a tremendous amount of Nurnburger (sp?) sausages, white asparagus, and hard pretzels.  Ended up getting sick from all of this shit.
  • Walked over ten miles for the day, and got a 20,000-step badge on the fitbit, which was a first.
  • Today, we woke up and found a triathlon was going on, and all of the streets were blocked off in a giant loop for the racing bikes.  It was too cold to swim though, so they made them run twice.
  • We went to a railway museum, not because I am Sheldon Cooper, but because it was attached to this communication museum, and it was a two-for-one.  The railway museum was all in German, so we made up descriptions for all of the exhibits.  (“Very few people knew Harland Sanders was a Colonel in the German Army prior to World War I, but was secretly a Jew and fled the country for Kentucky” etc.)
  • The communication museum was also mostly German and confusing, but they had a bunch of old telephones and crypto machines.
  • Ate lunch at the German National museum, but did not go in, since I’ve seen a lifetime of Gutenberg bibles and suits of armor.
  • Went to the New Museum and there was a Laurie Simmons exhibit there.  Who is… wait for it… Lena Dunham’s mom.
  • Bought a ton of books at the book store, including this giant Chuck Close book that was marked down to 7€ and a Damien Hirst book big enough to kill someone.
  • Walked not as much today but still a lot.  Everything was closed on Sunday, which was weird.  Even Dunkin Donuts was closed.
  • Leave for Frankfurt tomorrow.

The market for YA books about euthanasia is going to be huge someday, so get on that now

So I booked my trip to Germany this week, which was a huge hit on the credit card, but at least I figured out the dates and times.  I’m going to be in Nuremberg for basically a weekend, and then Frankfurt for a week.  Travel times screw with that a bit, though.  I couldn’t figure out a flight to Nuremberg on a Thursday, and my first strike on all of the deal sites ended up looking like this: Wake up early for work on Thursday, work all day, take a twelve-hour flight from SFO to Zurich, then sit for eleven hours until I took an hour-long flight to Nuremberg.  Um, no.

I eventually found a trip where I left a little later on an SFO to Frankfurt flight, then sit around for almost seven hours until a half-hour flight to Nuremberg.  If I was smart, I’d skip the connecting flight and take a two-hour train ride, but I don’t know how to deal with the customs, luggage, tickets, etc.  I know everyone speaks English, but even in the same scenario in America, I’d get stressed out.  All of this means I have to sleep on the plane ride out, because there’s no way in hell I will be able to power through two days of no sleep and airports.  Sonata, take me away – I need to sleep on that flight.  And I will probably pay to get into one of those lounges at the airport and take a long shower and curl up with some WiFi and a power connection for the layover.  Hopefully there will be plenty of cased meat German goodness for me to consume during my wait.

Speaking of Germany, we bought a second car, actually a new primary car for S.  It’s the Jetta sportwagon, which is pretty nice.  It has all of the extras, like a huge moonroof, leather heated seats, and a whole armada of lights and motors and switches I will never understand.  I am fine with the Prius C as my daily driver, mostly because I don’t drive daily.  I’ve had the car for three months and put 800-some miles and only two tanks of gas in it.

I’ve started a new book, which is good.  It’s a lot different than my other books, and that’s about all I can say about it, except that it’s been a little slow out of the gate, but is very heavily over-outlined and planned from the start.  It takes place in Seattle, which has been interesting for me.  Although I’m only a few days into it, I am hoping to keep up with my current rate and maybe get a draft done before Germany.  Fingers crossed on that.

Atmospheres has not sold at all.  It hasn’t been reviewed or mentioned or purchased, aside from one or two brief blips on the radar.  It’s fallen completely flat, and I went into a huge post-partum depression over that.  There’s nothing I can do about that except go out and try to write another book, but it’s extremely depressing to finish something you really love and then realize you have no audience at all for it.  I realize it’s a hard book to read, but it’s got some of my favorite writing in it, and went in a new direction for me, with a lot of rawness and honesty I haven’t been able to work into other books.

But it’s a tough sell, and it’s not the kind of thing I can shore up with ads and targeted mentions to communities like it’s a YA vampire book, because there isn’t really a community for this kind of shit.  I’ve been greatly distancing myself from the Bizarro community and the literary fiction category, and have completely forgotten about the alt-lit thing, because I’ve realized I don’t fit into any of those, and I don’t feel welcome.  This shit is high school all over again, and I’d rather write.  So, that’s what I do.

Not much else is up.  Still taking bass lessons, which has been good, except that my teacher let me play his Precision bass, which is one of those 50s reissues made in Japan in the late 80s, and it’s such a phenomenally awesome bass that I immediately want one.  I’ve got four basses, three that are never played, and I’ve been scheming some way to arbitrage my way into something else, maybe sell three and build one.  I should just fucking practice and stop thinking about it, but those vintage frets and lightweight bodies full of punch make me jones for something else.

It’s quickly becoming summer here.  It’s gout season right now, and I’ve got stiff joints and fingers and a clicky neck that makes me think I should just move into my chiropractor’s office.  Been reading that new Barry Miles bio on Burroughs, which I’m enjoying.  I have read too many Burroughs bios in the last six months, but this one is pretty solid.

I’m starving and 1500 words in for the day, so I need to look into some waffles or pancakes or bacon or all three.


Notes from a trip journal, London

[I wrote this on 5.17.2012 and it doesn’t really have an ending.]

I’m in Nuremberg today, sitting in my hotel with a glass bottle of Coke and listening to Jimi. I’ll get to the first leg of my German trip (and the horrible travel day I had getting here), probably about the time I’m leaving here for Berlin. First, I wanted to put down some thoughts about London.

I’ve never been to London before, and I didn’t know what to expect. I envisioned it as a city like New York, except older, darker, and replace all of the Ray’s Original Real Famous pizza joints with fish and chip restaurants, or maybe pubs. What I found was completely different from that, and I have to say that I really enjoyed London.

I don’t feel like recapping in paragraphs, so I’m going to drop right into the bulleted list.

  • We flew out of SFO at around noon. That put us into town at about seven in the morning the next day. It was maybe an eleven-hour flight, and I almost slept an hour. S had a seat in business class, and because her ticket was booked from her work and mine was done by me on the web, I got an economy plus ticket. That meant I had a hair more room than the steerage section, but not enough to stretch out. I wrote for a long time, played games on my iPad, and watched the new Jim Gaffigan special, which was worth the five bucks.
  •  Heathrow is big. We got out and my first impression was that it was roughly the size of Newark, JFK, and LaGuardia put together. It took us forever to get from the plane to customs. Clearing customs was a non-issue, even though I had been up all night and was liable to say something stupid, but they asked me nothing except for the purpose of my visit. I did not answer “to fuck shit up,” so I passed.
  • All of the cabs are the same kind of car, and I don’t know the make or model, but it looks like an old 1940s sedan.
  • Once we got on the highway in the back of a cab, I quickly got confused by the right-hand drive thing. Like I’d look over and think “how the hell is that car driving itself, and why is that kid just sitting in the passenger seat and watching?”
  • For a country from which people get so shitty about the metric system, there are so many god damn inconsistencies. Like on the highway, some warning signs were in miles, but others were kilometers. I also noticed this in the right/left thing. For example, I would always expect a down escalator to be on the left, and on an escalator, for the standing/slow people to be on the left, and the faster/walking people on the right. I found a mix of both. I never knew what side of the sidewalk I should be using for a given speed/direction. Also, there wasn’t a bar where you could buy a 0.473176L of beer.
  •  We stayed in Marble Arch. I have only the vaguest idea of London geography, and I feel we barely scratched the surface in our brief stay, but to me, it felt like this was a slightly richy-rich neighborhood, although nowhere near as much as Nob Hill.
  • We checked into our hotel, which was one of these little boutique things that used to be a row of townhouses, but was converted into a hotel. It was pretty nice, albeit small, but we’re probably spoiled from American hotels.
  • On the first day, we showered and then vowed to not immediately sleep, and try to power through a day of seeing sights, to remedy the jetlag. This meant the first day was hell. I am officially old, because staying up past 9:00 at night will total me the next day, so an all-nighter is absolutely crippling to me.
  • We ate breakfast at a diner-type place, and I had a full English breakfast, which I always used to get at this diner in Queens when I lived there. This was roughly the same, although it didn’t have blood sausage, and had beans.
  • While at the diner, we talked to this couple next to us that had just finished this all-night charity walk, in which they walked a whole marathon over a period of like ten hours, so they were about as loopy and walking-dead-esque as us. One interesting thing that came up in conversation was that they had a son in college who was in an American Studies program, and as part of the degree, he was going to the states next fall to study for a year. He wanted to get into San Diego State University, but instead got assigned to Lincoln, Nebraska, and the parents had many questions about what the hell a Lincoln, Nebraska was. I’ve never been there, but my general guess answers were: a) It will be cheap; b) They have beer (sort of); c) Everyone will be really nice; d) If he likes blonde-haired, blue-eyed girls away from home for the first time, the world is his oyster; and e) I hope he likes steak and isn’t a vegan.
  • We went for a long walk that took us out to Buckingham Palace, where we ran into this huge congregation of people gathering. We asked a cop why, and he said the changing of the guard was happening in 45 minutes. We snapped a bunch of pictures, and headed south for a bit. (The guards, BTW, are now behind a huge fence with about 30 yards of space between you and them. You can get a decent shot with a zoom lens, but you can’t get in their face and try to make them laugh or whatever. I don’t know if this was some 9/11 terrorist thing or what.)
  • A bit later, we saw the Royal Guard building or museum or headquarters, and inside of that fenced-in compound, we stopped and watched them congregate. There was a marching band of some sort assembling and getting ready and inspected by their officer. These were the red coat guys with the big black penis-looking hats.
  • About half of the guards had on their belts, along with mounts for drums or drumstick holders or whatnot, a sheathed knife. S asked me why they had them, and I said “because you don’t want to bring a tuba to a knife fight.”
  • They got ready and started playing, and I expected to launch into some heavily British big brass jingoistic national anthem thing, but they started with this slightly jazzy easy listening-type number, like something that would be played on Lawrence Welk, which sort of blew my mind.
  • I should also mention that the tourists were out in force, and mostly consisted of high school students from other EU countries or further East. So lots of French, Italian, along with some Russian and Polish and other languages I couldn’t catch. All of them had the same Justin Bieber haircut, and it smelled like an Axe factory exploded. (Axe is, coincidentally, called something else in the UK. I think it’s Jaguar or maybe Sex Panther.)
  • We kept walking, and saw Westminster Abby, The Parliament, Big Ben, the London Eye, and crossed the Thames, then got some lunch and took the subway home.
  • One thing I noticed in general the whole time there was that service at restaurants was extraordinarily slow. Most places automatically add on 15% in service, and I don’t know if that’s part of it, or if Americans all suffer from ADD and impatience. (Maybe both.)
  • The undergroud (aka the subway or the tube) is pretty huge, and well-organized. It’s relatively clean, fast, and efficient. I’d compare it to the BART. Or I’d give the NY MTA about a 6 or 7 out of 10, and the underground a solid 8 from my limited experience.
  • I ended up falling asleep for about three hours, and then couldn’t fall asleep that night.
  • On Monday, it rained, and in some ways, being out in London in the rain gave me a better feel for the city. I expected London to be grey and dreary, and being out on the rain matched that. But the city had a bustle to it, and kept on running during the storm, which was impressive.

I am back

I am back.  My luggage is not.  It might be on a plane from Frankfurt, Germany to here, or it might be sitting on some Lufthansa baggage conveyor somewhere in Germany.  I will probably see it this weekend, and it’s no big deal, aside from the inability to wash two weeks of dirty laundry.

We had a good time in Berlin, although it seemed pretty short.  I am amazed at how modern and well-planned that city seems, yet how there’s so many different eras of history represented.  There’s all of this ancient history, old churches that somehow survived the wars, and then there’s this postwar history, all of the Stasi-era East German bland architecture that’s quickly being gentrified.  And then there’s all of this ultra-modern stuff, the New York-style glass and chrome buildings.  I guess from a city planning perspective, it helps if your city gets mostly destroyed and you can start over.  It’s the reason Japan has ultra high speed internet everywhere and all of the US that’s not in a million-person-plus city has a total disaster of copper wiring that can barely handle 56K modems.

We ate dinner at the Reichstag, which is the perfect example of this. It was built in 1894, and most famously burned down in 1933. It has since been redone and reopened, and the parliament now uses it. It’s such a strange combination of new and old though, because you’ve got this centuries-old exterior that everyone’s seen in World War 2 books, but the inside of it is ultra-modern, and seamlessly transforms into this all-glass interior that looks like something out of a movie.  Since we had this dinner reservation through Sarah’s work, we got to line-hop and go straight to the top of the building, into this huge glass dome with a 360-degree view of all of Berlin, and a corkscrew pathway twisting up to a cupola viewing deck at the top.  Dinner itself was good, but just being inside this building, and then seeing all of the city at night was phenomenal.

One of the other things we checked out was the DDR museum, which documented the history of East Germany, and the rise and fall of the Socialist country.  It’s not a very big museum, and when we went, there was a mob of high school kids who didn’t really give a shit, making it chaos.  But they had some very interesting stuff there, and this era fascinates me, because it wasn’t that long ago, just over twenty years, but everything from that era has completely vanished.  It’s like my fascination with old malls: you can easily pull far more information from the Civil War era than you can from a mall that was built in 1978 and torn down in 1994.  The museum had all of these packages from food and cosmetics and beauty products that were produced and sold by the DDR government, these generic packages that were very utilitarian instead of produced by ad agencies. When I was in high school, they churned out millions of bottles of Vita cola, and all of that stuff is gone now.  When I see something in a museum like an old WW2 plane, I have no connection to it, because it was before my parents were born.  But I went to college with people from Germany, had friends in the Army that were stationed over there, and I can clearly remember the existence of East Germany, so there’s a strange nostalgia for me.

I spent all day yesterday on the return trip, and almost got stuck in Frankfurt.  Our flight from Berlin was delayed by an hour, and we had to get from gate A20 to Z8, which involved a serious sprint across the airport.  We luckily did not have to go through security a second time, and they did customs at the gate.  It did mean I could not stock up on water for the eleven-hour flight, and I got stuck with about 150 Euros that I didn’t get a chance to change or spend.  On the long flight, I ended up doing an editing pass on my book, watching Anchorman, and then watching a ton of other TV shows, including a half-season of Louie.

So it feels good to be home, although I don’t have that laundry to wash, I don’t feel like sorting through the thousand pictures I took, and I’m not feeling terribly inspired to write.  But I need to get something done, so I should get to it.




It’s two in the afternoon, and it’s an absolutely wonderful day outside in Berlin, 79 degrees and sunny.  And of course, I’m sitting inside, looking out the window and listening to the traffic at Potsdamer Platz. But I did walk about six miles today, so I don’t feel too bad about it.

We had a late flight last night from Nuremberg to Berlin, which meant we had a full day to kill in the old city. We checked in our bags and wandered around, going to the design museum and the national museum. The design museum was pretty cool, one of those all-white modern things with high ceilings, no right angles, and twisty spiral staircases that look like something out of a Star Wars movie. The national museum was oddly Nazi-free, and focused a lot on ancient history, giant tombstones from the 16th century, Gutenberg bibles, and lots of the Jesus, in the form of esoteric wood carvings and gold statues and whatnot.  Both were great museums, but I’m now pretty museum-ed out, and don’t feel like seeing much here.

We got into town late, and caught a cab with an interesting cab driver.  Oh, I should mention the strangest cab ride I’ve had in a while — this was in Nuremberg, and we were going to a dinner, and the cab had a horn in the back seat.  It wasn’t a French horn, but rather what I think is called a “natural horn”, although of course he called it by some German name that was 216 characters long.  I asked him about the horn, just curious if by some coincidence it was made by Conn or Selmer or someone else in Elkhart.  He asked if we wanted to hear him play, and then popped in a CD of what sounded like some Germanic orchestral march music, and then whipped out a harmonica and started playing along the part, holding the metal instrument with one hand while driving on this winding cobblestone road with the other hand.  Very weird.

Anyway, last night’s cabbie was a younger Muslim guy, maybe a college student, and very clean-cut and sort of preppy looking.  He had the nice model of Mercedes cab (it’s funny that the US only gets the high-end M-B cars, whereas they make a whole range of cars here, and you see many total piece of shit Mercedes vehicles, like little diesel econoboxes that are closer to my Yaris than a luxury ride.) and we drove from Teigel with the moonroof open and a cool breeze from the city night filtering into the back seat.  You could immediately tell we were no longer in this ancient castle city, as we cruised on the ultra-modern autobahn and saw the lights of the big city.

He started asking us about where we were from, and we mentioned California, and he said “the Dr. Dre California?”  When we said we were from San Francisco, he asked us if that was where all the gays lived; he didn’t say it in a negative tone, just curious.  We said yes, and mentioned that Silicon Valley is there, too.  The talk went to politics, and Sarah asked him his opinion on Obama, and he said that many people don’t see him as much different than George Bush, which was interesting.  His main thing was that Obama continued what he called the “holocaust” against Muslims with Guantanamo and the various wars, which was a different take than I was used to hearing.  I mentioned that the President was only a third of the national government, and although Obama promised to stop these things, he was largely powerless to do so.  He immediately started asking about the Supreme Court and I thought it was interesting that a German knows all of this stuff about our government, but if you mentioned Angela Merkel to an American, there’s a 99% chance they’d ask what TV show she was on.

We’re staying in a Hyatt near Potsdamer Platz, and I got a slow start today, mostly because of fighting with the hotel WiFi and my Mac.  I’ve had astonishingly bad luck with internet connectivity on this trip, and it seems most hotels have simply handed over their WiFi to a major vendor who then gouges you for something like 3 to 5 Euros per hour for a spotty WiFi connection.  When I fired up my iPhone to check out the prices on 3G, it turns out that international roaming charges are something like $1.50 a minute voice and $20 per megabyte, meaning there’s no way in hell I’ll take my phone out of airplane mode.  I’m currently paying $18/day for wired Internet in the room, and doing internet sharing to feed the other wireless iDevices.  If I came back again, I’d probably look into getting some MiFi adapter that supports a pay-as-you-go account.  Domestically, Virgin Mobile supports a $99 device with a really cheap pay-as-you-go data plan, but it’s CDMA and mostly useless in Europe.  I think there are cheap GSM solutions, but I don’t know which provider you’d use on this end.  The other option would be an international iPhone plan from AT&T that would enable tethering, but the two problems with that are that I don’t travel overseas enough to justify the international plan, and if I switched to a plan that enabled tethering, I’d lose the grandfathered-in unlimited data plan I have now.

So I spent the day walking around the city.  I hit all of the usuals: Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag, Checkpoint Charlie, the Holocaust Memorial, and a decent excursion into what used to be East Berlin.  All through the city, there is a dark brick line on the ground that traces the old path of the Berlin Wall, and in a few specific places, there are pieces of the concrete wall left behind for tourists to snapshot.  There’s actually pieces of the Berlin Wall all over the place; every shop hawking post cards and t-shirts has chunks of concrete sealed in lucite or on keychains, all purporting to be pieces of the original barrier built in 1961 to divide the city.  There are concrete blocks in cafes, outside of museums, next to currywurst stands, on sidewalks, and in parks.  And back in the states, it seems like every military museum has their own spray-painted chunk of the barrier, as if it somehow invokes the ghost of Reagan in a major “up yours, commies”.  All it gets from me is a major eye roll, like when the same museum has a foot-long section of “WTC steel” which may or may not be a piece of rebar from Home Depot.

There’s a strange park next to this cluster of buildings by our hotel, this chunk of corporate glass-and-chrome towers housing Daimler, Sony, Deutsche Bank, and other businesses.  This huge strip of green was full of businesspeople eating lunches, and I sat on a park bench and worked for a bit while the cleaning people went over our room.  I’ve got this next book, still untitled, sitting on my Kindle, and I’ve been combing through it for errors.  It felt nice to sit outside this business park and chip away at it while a gentle wind blew past.  I’ve still got a ton of work to go on this, so I need to get back to it, but it’s a great day to do it.

So I’ve got tonight, then tomorrow we have a dinner at the Reichstag, and then the big fun flight from Berlin to SFO.  We leave Berlin at three and get home at eight, but that’s really thirteen hours.  And then I work on Thursday, which should be interesting.



It’s my second-to-last day in the Bavarian city of Nuremberg, and it’s something like seventy degrees outside, but I’m in the hotel, looking out a huge window at the sun, listening to birds chirp, and editing a book I hope to get published by June, although I just realized that’s in eleven days, so given that the book doesn’t even have a title yet, I should start saying “by summer”.

I’m staying in the old part of town, which is all inside a giant set of castle walls, the kinds of things with bricks like the kind they build pyramids out of, with parapets and archer slits and giant arches and the whole nine.  If I was really into fantasy and Tolkein, this would be far more interesting, as would the 17 medieval-looking churches in the area.  It is pretty stuff to photograph, but when my mind wanders, I’m not thinking dragons and elves.  I’m mostly wondering what got destroyed by allied bombing, what got repaired, and what’s brand new, or at least post-1945.  Sometimes, it’s very obvious; you can see a building that’s totally new, and its neighboring buildings are new from the second floor on up, and it’s obvious a bomb hit right in the middle of them.

I’ve done a lot of walking. On our first day here, I walked to the Nazi parade grounds, which is where Triumph of the Will was filmed and all of those huge party rallies were held in the thirties.  A good chunk of it is now apartments, but they kept the remains of the never-finished congress hall and turned it into a museum.  It’s all in German, but you can get one of those English headphone things.  It’s fairly creepy, and focuses on trying to explain how the propaganda took hold in the country, and then how the Nuremberg trials happened after the war.  There was plenty of creepy Nazi stuff, and endless irony that the hall where the great Nazi congresses were to meet is now largely used as a storage facility.

Nuremberg isn’t a tourist destination, and English isn’t as prevalent as it was in Berlin.  The place also has a small-town feel.  It actually reminds me a lot of when I visited Stratford, Ontario back in high school, I guess because of all of the old-looking architecture and the fact that a lot of the town’s just working and doing whatever instead of busking tourists.

Even though the city isn’t huge – somewhere around the size of Oklahoma City – it does have a full underground subway system.  I bought a day pass for just under 5 Euros yesterday and took a quick trip around the U-Bahn.  It’s Germany’s newest train system, and has 46 underground stations.  Like all German trains, it’s ridiculously clean and incredibly sedate and orderly.  And like other German systems, the ticketing is practically on the honor system; there are no turnstiles or gates.  You’re expected to purchase a paper ticket when you use the system, but nobody was checking them and no machine stopped you from just walking downstairs and onto a train.  Maybe the cops spot-check people, but I didn’t see this happening.  I think I gave some train system ratings on a 1 to 10 scale system, and the U-Bahn here probably rates in the low 9’s, with Berlin being a high 9, the main difference being that the Berlin system will tell you when the next train is coming.

Lots of diesel cars and VWs here, which made me start thinking about Summer Rainduring yesterday’s walk. That book starts on the Friday before Mother’s Day in 1992, meaning we just passed the 20-year mark, which made me think way too much about it. It’s strange to wonder if twenty years ago I’d ever imagine myself 4500 miles away in Europe.  It’s strange to think about it even now.

Anyway, this book awaits.  There’s some kind of freaky festival tonight, the blue night festival, and nobody can seem to explain it to me.  When I ask someone, the explanation usually goes something like “there is this, how you say, acrobats, and in town square, there is, you know, man running, and with blue light on the buildings, you know?” which leaves me even more confused.  We fly to Berlin tomorrow at 8:30 at night, and then have three days until we return to SFO, at which time my sleep schedule will be completely fucked.  I’m hoping for an interesting evening with these blue lights or whatever it is.


Back from Germany

I’m back. Pictures are on flickr (although I’m liking that site less and less the more I use it.) Not everything is captioned, and yes there are a lot of pictures that are blurry and fucked up. Museums with low light, no flash allowed, glass cases, and my piece of shit camera will do that.

I enjoyed the trip and seeing new things, but I’m so glad to be back. My main two problems were food and drink. I thought I liked German food, but it turns out that I like German food made with American ingredients. There are some real differences in the quality of food in Europe. The meat is much tougher, and the pork products are cured way more, so they have this horrid taste, like if you’ve ever had shelf-stabilized bacon in a can from a camping trip or an MRE. Vegetables are all non-GMO, non-big agra, and not that incredible. I’m sure the eurotrash contingent would disagree, but I like tomatoes that are bigger than a golf ball. What was frustrating was that there are many American chain places that use German ingredients. I went to a McDonald’s hoping for the same burger and fries I’d get back home, but the meat was tough and gamey, and the potatoes in the fries didn’t have the same magical starch composition as Idaho spuds back home, making them taste odd. If I lived in Germany, I would lose 50 pounds in the first three months, because I simply wouldn’t be able to eat fast food anymore. (In fact, I lost about five pounds since we left, but I’m sure most of that is dehydration from the plane ride.)

And not all food was horrible. On our last night, we went to a more traditional German restaurant, and I had the best damn potato soup I’ve eaten in a long time. We also went to the fancy-schmancy restaurant in the hotel one night, and I got an eight-course dinner that was pretty incredible, if not a bit weird. The best dish was a cajun scampi that was lightly fried in spices, but was as tender as baby food inside, and served with a wasabi sorbet, which sounded odd, but was incredible. The main dish was three types of ox: tongue, shoulder, and breast, done up with some kind of reduction and cooked to the point where they were almost jelly. I also tried a lot of stuff I’d normally never eat, like duck liver, caviar, mackerel, and a few others. It was a strange meal, but very memorable.

Oh, the drink part – I think Germans don’t consume as much liquid as Americans. That eight glasses of water a day thing didn’t make it over there. I can understand the lack of fascination with large soda sizes; I went to a Burger King and got a super maxi size, and the soda was like 16 ounces, which is the child-size at an American fast food place. It’s hard to even find a 12-ounce Coke, let alone the 16 or 20-ounce big plastic bottles. The most popular size was a .2 liter or .33 liter. And that’s fine, but the water sizes are even more scant. Go to an American Safeway or Kroger, and you will find a million bottles of water that are a liter, if not more. (“Sport” sized.) I never, ever saw that. They don’t serve water with meals, they don’t have drinking fountains, and the water they do have is some kind of carbonated mineral water. No Dasani, no Evian, just the stuff that tastes like it will give you lead poisoning. And I drink like ten glasses of water a day, plus three or four American-sized Cokes. After a day or two of begging and pleading at restaurants to get a second four-ounce glass of water, things got old fast.

Nice things: the mass transit. There are two types of subway (S-bahn and U-bahn), plus streetcars, busses, light rail, longer rail, and the Eurail. The subway was a bit daunting at first, but it was also odd because there are no turnstiles to stop you from entering any station. There are just little paper tickets – you buy one, then stamp it in a validator machine to show you’re riding the train now. If you get caught without a validated ticket, there’s a fine, but nobody ever checked ours. If they did this in New York, there would be 40,000 people living in each station in a matter of seconds. The stations were clean, maybe as clean as a PATH train, so not sterile, but decent. Each station has digital signs telling you where the trains are going, and when the next train will arrive. (Same with bus stops.) Let me repeat that: THERE ARE SIGNS THAT TELL YOU WHEN THE NEXT TRAIN IS ARRIVING! Not “eventually,” not “at some point”, but “in two minutes.” They could never, ever, fucking ever do this in New York. And before you ask, yes the times were accurate. Trains regularly showed up a minute before the time. I never saw one run late. Another odd thing is that subway doors don’t open or close at each stop – you press a green button on the inside or the outside to open the door, and they close automatically as the train leaves. What’s weird is you can open a door as the train is slowing down for a stop. In New York, that feature would kill about 9 people a day. The trains were very nice; the S-bahn is more long-haul, above-ground stuff, while the U-bahn is underground, but more transfers to get from point to point than a NY train. But figure in that New York City hasn’t been divided and reunited and leveled by bombs over the course of the last 50 years, so their routes can be a bit more static.

In general, people in Berlin seem to be more trusting and self-policing than what I’m used to in New York. There were many times when I saw something and wondered “why doesn’t someone just steal that shit?” Like eating at a buffet restaurant, the German approach might be “just take some food, then tell us what you ate and pay for it,” where the New York version would be “Pay for the shit before you even touch it, then go through the metal detector, pick up the food, and get the fuck out of here because we’re not running a hotel.” There were many coin-op public toilets on the street (like the kind that clean themselves between uses) and it made me wonder if they could ever do that in NYC, or if people would just put in the 75 cents and move into the bathroom and never leave.

People were largely nice, and I never got called out for being an American, and didn’t have to pretend to be a Canadian or whatever. Not everyone speaks English well, but a lot do. The main problem is that we both look German enough that people assumed we were German and would start babbling away rapid-fire into conversations with us. The other problem is that German is alien enough to me that I can’t tell if a person talking in my peripheral vision is talking to a friend, talking on a cell phone, trying to get my attention, or frantically trying to tell me to stop what I’m doing because I’m about to massively fuck something up. I can tell people are talking, but I can’t tell if they are talking to me, or what the tone is. I don’t understand much Spanish, but I know enough that I can figure that out when I’m here. But it really started to make me paranoid, because I was always worried there was some small social thing that I was fucking up, like if I didn’t take off my jacket when I sat at a table, I was disgracing the owner of the restaurant and he would have to challenge me to a duel. Or whatever.

The big thing about Berlin is the wall, even though it’s largely gone. Every gift shop sells little pieces of the wall, which are probably just cinderblocks smashed up into little pieces, just like the Mt. St. Helens ashes you used to be able to buy in Washington. A lot of the former lines of the wall are now outlined by twin brick lines embedded in pavement and sidewalks. Most people envision a single, long wall, like a castle wall, but it’s a lot more complicated than that. The wall zig-zagged all over the place, and it was actually two walls: a taller one on the east side, a smaller one on the West, and a DMZ between the two. We went to the Checkpoint Charlie site, which is now a Disneyland for hucksters selling cheap shit to tourists. Want a picture with a fake army guard at the checkpoint? A bath towel? Snow globe with a piece of the wall in it? Former commie t-shirts and hats? Come on down, bring your Euros. We went to the museum there, and it was the most tacky and ghetto (no pun intended) museum I’ve seen since me and Larry went to that John Dillenger museum in Brown County a decade or so ago. So yeah, the wall is a big cottage industry. And I bought a fridge magnet, so I guess I’m just contributing to it.

I can’t even begin to describe the museums we went to, although I took some photos. The German historical museum was my favorite, and did a good job of describing German history from before christ up to present. The up-to-WWI collection was an excellent primer on the early days of Romans and Huns and Emporers and Napoleon and everything else. The 20th century part was Nazi central, with a lot more than I’d expected. They had a lot of original third reich stuff, which was interesting for a bit, but after a few rows of it, it was like watching the History Channel’s WW2 marathon on repeat for days on end. It was odd that the Treaty of Versailles was called the “treaty of shame” in all of the exhibits. It was also eerie to see a display of an engine from a British bomber that was shot down over Berlin. I’m desensitized to seeing these “spoils of war” displays in museums; it was weird to see one from the other side.

We also went to a couple of art museums, which were interesting. I don’t know a lot about art or modern art, so when I see something I think is neat, I’m not thinking “wow, what does this represent?” but rather “wow, how did he do that?” I’m more interested in large-scale modern art from the welding/carpentry/stoneworking point of view than the actual art, so maybe that doesn’t make me the best critic. But the museums were great. I saw a lot of Andy Warhol at one, Picasso at the other, and Felix Gonzales-Torres had a huge showcase at one place. I also saw a Damien Hirst in there, “The Void,” the one with all the pills. That museum also had a huge display of video-based pieces, all of them incredibly odd and interesting. Like one guy was showing the movie Psycho over a 24-hour period. Maybe I should get a video projector and start filling out grant forms.

Oh, I also saw the world’s largest model train layout. There are a bunch of blurry pictures of that in there, too.

I am sure there’s more to talk about, but I need to either take a nap or try to get started on the day…