Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Last Leg of 2008

Remember me? I know, I know.... it's been a long time. I blame the condition of being a graduate student. The course work this semester ate up nearly all of my time, but I have hopes that next term will be just as invigorating while being a little less rigorous. It's an irrational hope, I know. I'll be starting my thesis during the semester, so the realistic view from here is a pile of books and wall-eye from staring at my computer for so long. I'm excited!

It's fairly uncharacteristic of us to stay put for so long without taking any trips, but one's coming up soon. Just after the New Year, we'll head up to Scotland for a few days, and then, to balance things out, we'll spend a couple days seeing London and then Windsor Castle. I'm surprisingly excited about Windsor Castle! It's so gigantic! The Queen still spends time there! It's in all the movies! They'll be showing a special exhibition in honor of His Royal Highness, The Prince of Wales! Okay, that one didn't deserve an exclamation point. It was just a statement. However, I'm sure we'll tour the exhibition.

In all seriousness, though, I've wanted to see Edinburgh for a long time.... much more than I've wanted to see any parts of England. I think it's because of their underdog status - Scotland and Ireland have always been the poor relatives of England, and I don't know even know what to say about Wales. Wales is its own country, yes, but, well, Charles is the Prince of Wales, so... well, I don't know what conclusion to draw from that. I suppose Wales is simply the lesser-known entity in the British Isles. I'd very much like to see it, though the Norfolk folk seem to have a disdain for Wales (perhaps a testament to that same poor relative status?), and they tend to spit the word out like an olive pit, much as they do with the word Scotland (that one's a much larger olive pit). I suppose that all these countries have been rubbing up against each other for a millenium, and they have a little sibling rivalry. At any rate, I will surely post many pictures of various places around the island when we return from our little trip, so keep an eye out.

Norwich has been an easy place to be, though, and as the weather gets colder and Christmas gets closer, it's been a bit more festive and beautiful outside.

St Peter Mancroft Church

They've erected an ice rink in front of the town forum (where one can find the city library, the tourist information center, and BBC Norwich), and it is the smallest ice rink I have ever seen. If I weren't the most terrible ice skater of all time, I would probably give it a whirl, because it's sandwiched by the Forum and the St. Peter Mancroft Church, which is quite beautiful. The Forum is very modern, while the Church was built in the 1400s.

Forum reflecting the St P.M. Church

The ice rink, though, is much less of a local attraction than the sheer number of places to shop in Norwich. The slim lanes and the market square are full of holiday shoppers pushing buggies and toting bags from the Primark and the Topshop (the former being the absolute cheapest place to buy non-secondhand clothes that I have ever seen - it's truly incredible). I would think that with the economy tanking the way it is, the shopping would be curbed a bit - or kerbed, as they sometimes spell it here. (The spelling differences are numerous and sometimes hilarious. The slang, too, sometimes leaves me guessing.) However, the shoppers are out in droves, though they are noticeably less rabid than many American Christmas shoppers. The people here, for instance, would probably not trample anyone to death. I have to give them that.

Brad will probably have to work way too many hours over the holidays, but both of us know that our real celebration will be getting on the train and traveling for a few days, so it isn't too bad. As for myself, I have an essay to write (yes, still) and I'll be thinking of family and friends. By this time next year, we'll surely be back in the contiguous United States, and we'll be able to celebrate with you in person, not just in thought. In the meantime, don't make fun of our little tree.


So Happy Holidays, everyone! I hope the New Year is full of cheer and good luck...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Norwich at Night

This is probably the first in a series of posts about Norwich at night, since nighttime has extended itself to massive proportions. It's difficult to feel motivated to do anything but drink hot cocoa (or Horlick's soothing warm malt beverages, as the case may be). I'm sure that as the retail world begins to push Christmas a little harder, things will get more festive and the dark will be dressed up a bit more. In fact, there's going to be a NORWICHRISTMAS Fayre! (Yes, that's how it's spelled - click the link, you'll see). Local goods, minstrels, outdoor ice rink, and most likely some roasted cashews and mulled wine - what more could you ask for? The town sort of begs for that sort of environment, anyway.

Elm Hill at night

See? That lane will definitely benefit from a minstrel and a rolling cart selling hot mince pies...though I think the cobblestones might be a bit hazardous. They look very picturesque but I don't care to walk on them any more than is absolutely necessary!

One of the things that Norwich is most famous for is its Cathedral. It has the second-tallest spire in England (Salisbury has the tallest) and some amazing windows and an even more amazing ceiling, but as it gets darker and more wintry, it's really the surrounding walls that are the more intense spectacle.

Cathedral walls

I am daily discovering new and beautiful things about this town, and the dark seems to amplify some of the more beautiful buildings. Tonight all I had to do was get a little lost to stumble on something stately and awesome that I'd never seen before, and I am constantly marveling at how eerily lit the Castle is at night. It's lucky that Norwich is so pretty at night, since it will be mostly night for the next few months. And speaking of night...I believe I'll go to sleep. Sweet dreams, everyone.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

And There You Have It


Brad and I stayed up until just after 6 am, long enough to watch both the concession and the victory speech. Though we felt a bit remote, thousands of miles away from American soil and connected to our friends and trusted news sources through our greatly overloaded internet, it was an incredibly momentous day. You will all be glad to know that it did not go unnoticed in the United Kingdom; BBC ran continuous coverage of the election from 11 pm to 6 am, and my classmates and Brad's coworkers all stayed up all night, doing the long haul from Greenwich Mean Time. While I'm sure there is news available in the U.S. regarding the international reaction to the new American President, I'm here to tell you first hand that some Brits found themselves lightheaded and shaky at 11 pm EST, just as I did (and it was only partially due to the fact that I'd been awake for about 24 hours), and I hear Berlin was also up til dawn, waiting. There was no shortage of election night events happening in London, and they were clearly hoping for a particular result (see England for Obama, complete with Inauguration countdown ticker at the top of the page). Every daily print newspaper had epic front pages and special editions, and the television news today, November 5, is feeling very familiar (interview with Alice Walker live from Berkeley! Maya Angelou! Footage from Eyes on the Prize!), and though I'm having a helluva time trying to concentrate on schoolwork (hence this very interesting blog post), I'm allowing myself a day to revel in the fact that I might not sound so apologetic when I tell people I'm American anymore. OK, the Russians are still a bit chilly, but I'm not sure there's anything that could change that anytime soon. Meanwhile, it's Guy Fawkes night here in England, so I'm pretending that the thousands of firecrackers and fireworks going off in my neighborhood are in honor of the U.S. elections, because I'm not particularly Guy-Fawkesy.

So this leg of the journey is over. Now I just have to listen to BBC commentators repeatedly use the term "post-racial" and bury my nose in books until the end of the term. And so begins the 21st century, previously put on hold...

Sunday, November 02, 2008

We Finally Went to Cambridge

Brad and I finally tore ourselves away from our warm house and all the election coverage (with which I have been driving myself crazy) and finally, finally took a little excursion. We have been in Norwich since the day we arrived in England, September 9, and nearly two months later, we finally stumbled our way to the train station and made our way to Cambridge.

I'm not sure exactly what I was expecting; actually, I was expecting a sort of medieval rural township where people still ride horses as a viable means of transportation and "take" tea, which I realize now was a terrible idealization partially based on the BBC series of Tess of the D'Urbervilles that played here a few weeks ago (which I highly recommend, to anyone interested in that sort of thing). Once we arrived in Cambridge, it dawned on me that of course it would be a compact town full of walls and turrets, since it's been there for centuries and at some point has most likely had to keep a steady defense against invaders, right? I'm not sure why the University buildings were so reinforced, however. I know that they've been there for about 800 years and perhaps the best way to really cripple a society is to knock out their best minds, but it was a little imposing.

Trinity Lane

Trinity College is behind that wall, and I know I come from UC Berkeley, where everything is ostensibly all trees and peace, but this seems like an awfully severe learning environment. Actually, despite having a vast collection of beautiful buildings and a river on which to go punting, Cambridge was, in general, sort of severe. I blame it partially on the weather, though; it's been getting a bit grey and blustery lately. The fall colors, however, lightened things up.

Clare College courtyard

Alright, it still looks a little dreary, but it was pretty in person. That was the courtyard of Clare College - see, Cambridge University is actually comprised of about 30 colleges spread all throughout the town, some of them bigger and more famous than others. There was one that we didn't see, called Magdalene College, that didn't allow women in until 1988. What?

The biggest and arguably most famous is King's College, and I admit that it was quite impressive. Even with the crush of sightseers, I stopped to snap some pictures.

King's College

Bradley at King's College

Aside from the various Colleges, the town was very charming and laid out with the same twisty, discombobulating street plan as Norwich. I never knew which way we were pointed. There were plenty of shops and restaurants and charming alleyways and an outdoor market where one could buy candles or ponchos or books or fresh vegetables or ostrich burgers... what's that you say? Ostrich burgers? Yes. Brad sampled it. I couldn't bring myself to do it. And, in keeping with the overtly intellectual attitude of the city, there was very little graffiti, and the graffiti that was present was, well, very intellectual. For example:


I don't understand it either. There was another one that said E = MC2 = Beethoven Construct, and around it there were comments and responses that were equally obtuse. It was very exciting.

We spent most of the day roaming through the courtyards of the various colleges and visiting museums and looking in at all the confectioners and window-shopping, and in the end, I'd say it was a much-needed break from the breakneck speed of the last month and a half. It also took my mind off the proximity of November 4, a date which is currently bringing me much trepidation. There are a few dates like this coming up - due dates of papers and applications, mostly, but the 4th is the real doozy. It's difficult being so far away from the U.S. at a time like this, despite my general joy at being out of the country for the time being. Hopefully by the next time I sit down to write on this blog, everything will have worked out famously.

So, good luck to all of us. Remember - never give up! Never surrender!*

*That's from the movie Galaxy Quest, which is brilliant. Credit where credit is due.

Friday, October 24, 2008


We've settled in. Our apartment is lovely, albeit a little far from Brad's job and my university. It's very comfortable, though, and Brad has taken control of the kitchen, while I spend most of my time sitting in the living room, alternately reading and getting tired of reading. As it gets darker earlier and earlier, I have an easier time concentrating.

Our neighborhood is lovely and quiet and our location in Old Catton means we're a bit closer to that picturesque English countryside that we all know from Jane Austen and Merchant Ivory. There are some cows and horses, some farms, and some parks that will look lovely when (or if) it snows this winter.

the park around the corner

There's an eerie sort of low-hanging fog that blows in and out, and that combined with all the pastures and foliage makes for a nice walk. There are a few large grocery stores within a couple miles of us - Tesco's, Somerfield's, and the Walmart-owned Asda - and these lovely surroundings make the walk almost entirely bearable. The grocery stores here are as massive and busy as the supermarkets in the States, and they are chock-full of frozen cornish pasties and chicken tikka masala in cans. The abundance of pre-prepared food in this country helps me to understand why someone like Jamie Oliver feels like this country's relationship with food needs to be reevaluated.

But on to the cheerier stuff. This town is beautiful.

elm hill

The center of town is all twisty lanes that meet at odd angles and we've finally gotten a handle on how to get around. There are small family-owned shops and gigantic corporate stores side-by-side, though all of them are probably getting slammed by the recession that just hit England like a tidal wave. The pound is weaker than it's been in many years, and if the American economy wasn't also crawling along at rock-bottom, it'd be a great time to come visit. Any takers?

Brad and I live pretty much on the cheap, though. The most that we may spend money on is perhaps a shirt or a pan from the multitude of charity shops in town, through which I paw hoping for some hidden treasure. My access to the amazing library at the University helps with my generally uncontrolled book addiction - not that I would have time to read for pleasure these days, anyway. Aside from the theoretical and academic books, I only read the occasional piece of fiction, or maybe one of the books in the poetry series that my professor edits. For anyone interested, the book titled Camp Notebook by Hungarian poet Miklos Radnoti is wonderful. Distressing, but incredible.

Contrary to how we normally operate, we haven't had any little excursions. Too much school, too much work, not enough motivation. We will, though...and you'll be the first to know about it. In the meantime, autumn is here, and I'm happy enough to watch the leaves change and wander through town when I have the time.

chapelfield gardens

Now I'll get back to watching that wacky UK television and chewing my nails over the upcoming presidential election. Remember - vote early and often! Good luck, everyone.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

2.5 Months Later

We've left Berlin; we spent some time in CA; some time in WA; some time in NV; and here we are in Norwich, UK. Today's weather forecast: rain.

We are lucky enough to have landed in a beautiful town, more specifically in a roomy, lovely flat in the north end of the city. Our neighborhood smells like woodburning, soil and fish'n'chips. It's not a stereotype about an abundance of fish'n'chips here...they are all over. There's one right down the block from us, though I haven't tried it yet. The reason for that isn't that I don't have a burning love for fried fish and french fries...rather, things here are quite expensive, almost prohibitively so. Luckily, Brad got a job.

So let's have a look at our place, shall we?
Living RoomKitchenBath
There are some differences now: we have a dish drainer, so imagine those drying dishes in less disarray; the bookshelf is now abundant with books on stylistics, translation, linguistics and Russian Symbolism; usually, I am on the couch, reading. Incidentally, I love my program.

The campus, however, while being situated on an extremely beautiful piece of land, looks, well, sort of Soviet. It is a mass of concrete, heavy and grey, harshly dropped next to the river Yare. It's on what is referred to as the University Broad, which is a sizable lake bordered by marsh. The land is really quite lovely.
There are thousands of bunny rabbits on campus, but they hide from the students, sadly. They are much more endearing than the rude little squirrels that ran wild on the Berkeley campus. From that picture, you can't really see the hulking mass of the Uni...
Katie at UEA
That's more like it. The whole thing was built slightly raised off the ground, with all the buildings connected by walkways; the idea behind the design was that it would force students from different fields to intermingle. "Say, I was popping out for a sandwich and bumped into a physicist!" Like that. The idea is more compelling than the execution, however. Mostly it results in bottlenecks.
Though I haven't yet gone inside, there is also a pretty big museum on campus, the Sainsbury Center for the Arts. It's very modern and sometimes free for students, which recommends it highly.
Brad floating
We haven't spent very much time sightseeing since we arrived here. Mostly we've been taking care of things. We've been fairly successful at that so far, you'll be pleased to know. We have been here for less than a month and are already fully entrenched in what will be our lives for the next year. I have a bus pass! I have a cell phone! We have a place to live! We even have the internet! It's pretty amazing. With Bradley's new job (at Rare Grill & Steakhouse), we may not have as much time to travel as we had in Berlin, but I think that bodes well for my studies.
The city itself is very endearing. The town center has one of the oldest outdoor markets in England and the city mostly retains its medieval plan, which means I get turned around trying to get from one end of the city to the other. The streets in the center, mostly pedestrian-only, are very twisty and sometimes cobblestoned. There is a castle (and the mall beneath it is hidden very well) and Norwich Cathedral has the second-tallest spire in England and is exceedingly beautiful inside.
Katie at Norwich CathedralBrad's Birthday!
Soon we'll spend a day somewhere - somewhere in the East of England, maybe Cambridge, maybe Oxford, maybe Great Yarmouth. What? Never heard of it, you say? I never had either. I get the feeling it's like a less-urban Coney Island. We hear there are gypsies there.
In the meantime, I'll be studying. The rainy weather is conducive to reading. As I compile random observations about the English way of life (for instance, bus drivers telling people that the bus is full when it is clearly not), I'll pop back and share them. See that? "Pop back?" Stuff like that. Be back soon.

Thursday, July 10, 2008


was actually a pretty strange city. We spent the last weekend there; it was our first venture into a Big Western City here in Germany, and I’m not sure what I was expecting. I knew some facts about Hamburg, for example: it is the wealthiest city in Germany due to its gigantic port, and it has the biggest red-light district in all of Europe, but other than that, I didn’t know much about its character or its history. And I have to say: spending a couple of days there didn’t quite change that. I am still confused.

There were parts of it that were truly picturesque, parts of it that were grimy and full of broken glass and prostitutes, and parts of it that were so wealthy I didn’t dare go into some of the shops. I’ll begin with the picturesque…

In the south of the city lies the port, and it was expansive and at times a bit rank, as if they were transporting in a thousand heads of cattle, but it was quite beautiful. In addition to the barges and Stevedores, they had the requisite tourist-trap boats, most of them attempting to replicate, oh, the Pequod or that one famous Ark, but traps or not, they provided a pretty backdrop.
brad at hamburg port
Mostly, though, it resembled the pier or shore district of many cities that have piers and shore districts, complete with randomly placed sculptures of fish jumping and little stands selling fish and chips or ice cream. The rough side of Hamburg was all but invisible around this upscale part of the city, and anyplace that the hooligans and punks reared their ugly heads (or slingshots) it didn’t really ruin the view.
And I have to say, once the red-light district finally spread out before us, I wasn’t that impressed. It wasn’t as skeezy as I thought it would be…but perhaps we were just there at the wrong time. There weren’t any scantily clad women standing on the streets in front of strip clubs trying to lure in men with wallets busting with dollar bills with Someone’s Thigh written all over them (because, actually, the one-Euro piece is a coin, as is the two-Euro piece. Paper money begins with fives, so the strippers probably clean up!), and the signs were mostly not as neon as I’d imagined. There were a couple good things about it, however.
I suppose they figure that the men will be urinating wherever they please anyway, so they’ve provided these handy urinals with no doors and nothing but a long filthy trough inside, so that hopefully the drunkards will be persuaded by the ease of it to use this and not the stairs to the metro station or the corners of buildings. And look: it worked! He wasn’t drunk, though, no worries.

And, of course, the other awesome thing about it was this:
grosse freiheit 36)
That means Big Freedom, basically, and one of the most well-known…scratch that, The Most Well-Known band in history began their musical careers here, before they had the famous shaggy bowl-cuts or decided that they were bigger than Jesus, before they went on Ed Sullivan or persuaded a whole generation to somehow play their records backwards. Ironically, Paul is still alive.

To the southeast of the Reeperbahn (the main drag of all the smut), there is a very odd, very empty neighborhood called Speicherstadt, and it seemed like something out of a futuristic film in which everything is very tidy. It’s all brick, and it is surrounded and bisected by water, and so all the buildings sort of float about ravines, with their balconies hanging off into no-man’s land and strange raised walkways that lead from building to building. I imagine that the new rich of the city live in this area, while the more established wealth is on the western edge of the city. In the Speicherstadt, I imagine we would have seen women wearing Anne Klein tailored suits and men wearing those handsome three-pieces where the jacket buttons to just above their sternum. I love those.
speicherstadt strongman
Since we didn’t see anybody, though, we just took pictures of each other.

All in all, it was a wonderful weekend, and a fabulous way to celebrate our anniversary. Walking through the city, getting caught in their weird 15-minute torrential downpours, riding in their strangely arranged U-Bahns, watching the landscape of the city move from pulp-board siding to glass and chrome, it was all a good time.

Incidentally, I took a picture of an anti-smoking campaign ad that appeared in some of their metro stations that I thought was one of the more ingenious campaign images I’ve ever seen; in the interest of propriety, I’m not putting the picture up here, but if you click on any of the pictures above, you can see it on my flickr page. It’s really amazing.

And, amazingly, we are leaving Germany in two weeks, and I have mixed feelings about it. We still haven’t seen a couple things in this city that I am still itching to see, so I’m sure I’ll be back to the blogosphere at least once before we leave. In the meantime, wish us luck. To some of you, but not enough of you: see you soon.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Happy 1st, Happy 4th

one year

Saturday, June 28, 2008


So our internet connection has bitten the proverbial dust, and without it, my blogging has been seriously curbed. However, I feel the need to share and show some of the things that we’ve been seeing and doing during this, the last two months of our stay in Berlin. It’s been strange coming to the realization that we actually have to leave, especially with the beautiful weather and all the German pride of the national football team going to the European Meisterschaft! With our return to California coming nearer, we’ve been venturing into previously unseen territory, namely the eastern pockets of Berlin that we’ve been lightly warned against (poor = angry and dangerous, but that occurs all over the world, really). We live on the eastern edge of the Ring, and to the east of us is an area not frequented by tourists or Westerners, and we’ve normally been the non-frequenters I speak of. However, we headed that direction, to look at the hulking mass of the old Stasi headquarters and the Plattenbau so quickly thrown up in the satellite neighborhoods of the DDR. Visions of Moscow danced in my eyes.

plattenbau on frankfurter allee

This expanse is not one kilometer from our house, but I’d never seen it up close. I look a little foreign, and coming from a place such as Oakland, where I tend to try to avoid any clear and present danger, I was always tentative to head this direction. Notice how the multi-colored stripes dress up the buildings. Pretty, isn’t it?

Just across the street from these quirky monstrosities is the former headquarters of the Staatssicherheit – Stasi to most. It’s been mostly untouched since it lost its power in 1990, and since then it’s been converted to a museum documenting the various nefarious workings of the Deutsche Demokratische Republik. Most of the original buildings still stand, and their centers of surveillance and record-keeping still bear the serious facades of DDR days, while some buildings seem newer, desperately attempting to lift themselves from their sad infamy.

stasi antenna
stasi block

Elsewhere, the East seems to be much like American suburbs: lots of trees, lots of strollers and elderly benchwarmers, McDonald’s, freeway entrances lined with billboards. If it weren’t for the tram and train tracks cutting through, I would believe it were some outlying suburban sprawl nudged up against any American city.

And now, as work wraps up and I have more time to explore the neighborhoods and alleyways of the city, I’m sure to find more bizarre scenes of an uncomfortable morph into the 21st century. However, this weekend will be devoted to Euro 08. Wanna see?

deutschland v portugal 2

Deutschland beat Portugal, formerly favorites and now out of the championship. Tomorrow night it’s Deutschland v Spain… if I could add in the sound of firecrackers and shouting, the experience would really come across, but as it is, you’ll have to settle for this lo-fi screenshot to imagine the fervor. I’m tentative when it comes to the packs of raging, semi-nude celebrators dancing in the streets, but it’s quite a sight. Better than the anti-Scientology demonstration; better than the loud and tangled Pride Parade that we accidentally stumbled upon; better than the bright and tedious Sex and the City premiere that we accidentally stumbled upon; but the sum is always greater than its parts, and all of it has been amazing. Does it sound like I’m wrapping things up here? In a way, I am, focused on the details of our upcoming year in the UK, dreaming of saltwater taffy and Bay Area breeze, but I love Berlin; walks through the city inevitably leave me pleased and appreciative. Especially when the weather is nice.

paddling - katie and julia

I’ll be back with more before we leave this great city, but in the meantime, I and all the German football hooligans share the same sentiment: FINALE. Everyone cross your fingers. See you soon.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

West Germany, East Germany, Germany 1945

1. West Germany
Last weekend, we went to Lübeck. Lübeck was the capital of the Hanseatic empire of the 10th century. It was immediately and overpoweringly charming, what with the sunshine, the amazing architecture, and the shockingly carefree population. It's in the state of Schleswig-Holstein, which means it's in the (cue the drums) former West. This was our first venture into what was West Germany, and while I was expecting a noticeable difference, I wasn't prepared for how poignant the differences would be. Keep in mind that Lübeck is only a few kilometers west of the old border, but what a difference a few kilometers make. There were laughing sunbathers, fresh-smelling lines of laundry fluttering at the river's edge, and a surprising lack of liquor stores. I don't mean to imply that the Eastern side of the nation is dour, foul-smelling and drunken; I only mean to point out the idyllic aspects of the particular town that we visited in the West. It was crooked, but it it was beautiful.

holstentor 1

See how this looks a bit crooked? This is the main entrance to the town, built in the 13th century, and it, like many of the town's red-brick buildings, was simply off-kilter. One end seems to dive into the ground, and the spires of the buildings in the background don't seem quite parallel. The whole town was like that. The theory is that the buildings weren't built all at once, but rather floor-by-floor over a number of decades, so they tended to lean one way or the other. However they turned out that way, they were so charming. The town was full of small passages that led to courtyards and gardens, and many of them were just my size.


(This passageway also illustrates their somewhat liberal interpretation of straight lines).

The other striking thing about the town was the churches. Granted, I'm no churchgoer, but I was particularly enthralled with the mixture of sacred and irreverent in the churches in this town. They were nearly all Lutheran or Protestant, but they still bore the dramatic marks of Catholic churches, and they wore them well. There was an excess of skulls in their paintings and sculptures, and mixed with the crumble of post-WWII reconstructions, they seemed to have personalities that were distinct, independent of their particular sect or creed. For instance, the Marienkirche in the center of the town.

14 crossesmarienkirche doors

I found it so sweet that these two pieces were part of the same operation. All in all, I found the town to be absolutely delightful. Later that day...

2. East Germany
...we returned to the East. We didn't go straight into the plattenbau of Berlin or the abandonment of Brandenburg an der Havel; instead, we went to Schwerin, the capital of the state of Mecklenburg-Pomerania. It was also generally very charming, albeit in a much more dusty, attic-y way. Many of the buildings were in various states of disrepair, and all but the most main streets seemed a bit abandoned, but there was one spectacular structure there.

schloss schwerin

It was so beautiful, and though it was surrounded by mosquitoes and flies, it smelled of lilacs and had its own island. I have to admit, I was keeping an eye out for the more downtrodden views of the East because I was fresh off the buzz of being in the West, but Schloss Schwerin really rubbed my eyes for me, even made me happy. See?


I didn't know what to expect, but I'll advise all who ask: don't shake a stick at Schwerin.

3. Germany 1945
OK, I obviously didn't visit Germany 1945. That's not what this is about. I think I would turn down that offer, as a matter of fact. Instead, I visited an exhibition at the Martin-Gropius-Bau here in Berlin, a collection of photographs by the Soviet photographer Yevgeny Khaldei, and I have to say, it was one of the most amazing photo exhibitions I've ever seen. He was a Red Army photographer, and he was witness to some of the greatest and worst moments ever captured on film. I disappeared while I was looking at those photos. Highly recommended.

We're going to stick with the theme of WWII and visit Schloss Cecilienhof (the birthplace of the divided Germany) in the next week or so. All you war history buffs, it's your lucky day! For everyone else, I'll try to take pretty pictures...

Thursday, May 08, 2008


It happened overnight. I woke up one morning and it was warm and sunny, the flowers were blooming, there were leaves on the trees, the cafes whipped out their sidewalk tables, and that was that. Now it's spring.

So, following the change of season, we decided to take a little trip up to the northeast coast of Germany, to the shores of the Ostsee (or East Sea, if you prefer). I'm not sure what I was expecting; I'd say that our experiences in other small towns of the former GDR have been varied, what with all the crumbling infrastructure and depopulation following the collapse of the Soviet Bloc. Many towns have really pulled themselves up by their proverbial bootstraps, but it's a lengthy process. However.

The towns that we visited were gorgeous. Everything you'd want from a small seaside community. Lots of ice cream and sunshine and little kids and people in visors; pretty standard fare in most of the Western world, I guess. I was pleasantly surprised to see some old GDR towns turning themselves into breezy, carefree villages. That's not to say there weren't some broken buildings lying around, but they were by no means prevalent. They were easy to ignore, at least.

Brad had fun, too. See?

Wieck water + BradBrad loves the drawbridge

I'll explain the story of the triumphant bridge pose: we arrived in a town called Greifswald to find it sleepy and Sunday-like (everything is always closed on Sundays), but no matter; our real destination was the bay. So we followed the river, hoping that eventually it would lead us to the sea. Brad kept insisting that there was a Dutch-style drawbridge, and that when we found it, the harbor wouldn't be far off. My disbelief lasted right up until the drawbridge came into sight. Hence the triumph.

We spent about half the day in Greifswald and then moved on, to an even more wonderful little town called Stralsund. Aside from the fact that the town was nearly 100% German and not adverse to looking at me strangely, it was a sweet little seaside haven. We even took a touristy little picture of ourselves to really drive the point home.

Stralsund lake

In the end, it was so pleasant that we'll be returning to the north part of the country this upcoming weekend, to a couple of towns that I've only heard some strange and mystical stories about. Lübeck and Schwerin, to be precise. I'm quite excited, actually. I'll let you know all about it.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Budapest, Part Two

As promised, I return to regale you more with tales of how positively amazing I found Budapest to be. I've talked to people that have loved it and people that have hated it; obviously, I am one among the former. We spent a good amount of time in both halves of the city - it's actually two cities joined together: Buda (the quiet one) and Pest (the wild one) - and there wasn't one place we went to that didn't completely fascinate and delight me. Okay, one place - the underground around Nyugati train station was your typical seedy city scene, so I felt fairly ambivalent about that.

When we first arrived in the city, I was prepared to feel on guard in the same way that I have in, say, Warsaw (which apparently boasts neo-Nazis so plentiful that their football team is often not welcome to play with the other European teams) and Moscow (enough said). However, Budapest was an incredibly friendly and optimistic city. They had the same war-torn buildings and frost-broken sidewalks as many other cities, but the people themselves behaved as if they were living in a metropolitan Eden. They had such pride in their city and their history, and they exhibited it in a way that I've not seen anywhere else. For instance:

There was a lovely sculpture (an art form that is in abundance in the streets of Budapest, by the way) of Imre Nagy, leader of several uprisings in the 1950s who was eventually killed by the Soviet regime. The sculpture itself is sort of haunting and serene, standing in the street the way it does:
imre nagy
but what was most compelling about this figure was the fact that every night, a small crowd would convene around it with lit candles and flags and song. Being the skeptic that I am, when we first stumbled across this vigil, I thought it best to steer clear, in case there was a riot on the way. However, as we discovered that it was a nightly ritual, it became clear that they are simply still honoring the spirit of independence that Hungarians so pride themselves on. Not far from the Imre Nagy statue was this, a sight that would alarm and enrage most Americans:
Yes, it's the Hungarian flag with an enormous hole cut in it. This flagpole is directly in front of the amazingly beautiful Parliament building (see the last post for that one), and it has an explanation in bronze in front of it. In 1956, the Hungarians put up a stubborn and vicious fight, trying to drive the Soviets out, but the uprising was brutally put down. Of course, that didn't happen until the Hungarians had sawed Stalin off at the ankles (or a bronze likeness of him, at least) and cut the Soviet emblem out of the middle of their flag. The flag (and the dismembered feet of Stalin) are both on display in Budapest, as a little reminder that they still relish their independence.
There is a park not far outside of Budapest where they've collected some larger-than-life old Soviet monuments, erected generally by the Russians. While I don't want to glorify the Soviet past, some of the monuments were amazing.
giant & ufo
That one I like because of the added surreal thing in the background. What is that? A water tower? It's a nice juxtaposition of history and...well, I don't know. As far as I know, that "water tower" has been there for decades.
varga army
And that one I like because, simply, it's awesome art. I'm actually not sure who the artist is, but I suspect it was done by the sculptor and painter Imre Varga, who was sometimes Soviet and sometimes not. If it was truly him, this must have been during his Soviet times. We visited the Varga museum, actually, and it was mesmerizing. Despite the fact that we were followed around by the attendants (we were the only ones there, strangely), I was rapt the whole time.

But aside from the marks of 20th century history throughout Budapest, remnants of several centuries were all throughout the city. There was, of course, the epic St. Stephens Basilica, several beautiful small chapels, some imposing and ethereal synagogues, the Danube, a castle, a citadel, some Roman ruins casually scattered throughout metro stations on the Buda side of the river (and not too covered in graffiti) and delicate, intricate turn-of-the-century moldings hidden on the roofs of buildings all through the city. In short, I loved it. Highly recommended.

The near future looks a little slim on extra-Berlin adventures, but I'm sure I'll be able to find adventure within Berlin, as the weather is getting a little nicer. I suppose spring is coming, but I sense that mostly from the blooming flowers and not so much from my sniffles and rain-soaked socks. These continental weather patterns leave me sweating in the rain and shivering in the sun. Or, in the words of Imre Varga:
varga umbrellas

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Hello! Welcome back to my blog. The very strange computer-to-computer internet connection that we use failed us for the last month, so I wasn't able to regale you, dear readers, with stories of March. March was an eventful month full of 1) my birthday, 2) Budapest, and 3) a visit from my mother and her husband! Much to their chagrin, I'll most likely post a photo of them, but first things first. In the middle of March, Brad and I went to Budapest.

We spent 5 days in Budapest, so I'm not sure that I'll be able to successfully recount how amazing and beautiful the city was. I have to be honest - I thought that Budapest would bear the bleak marks of the other post-Soviet countries I've visited, but that was not the case in the slightest. Okay, the buildings were often brown or grey (or a combination of the two), but the people were the farthest thing from drab. They weren't offended or irritated when we slaughtered our way through the Hungarian language, they didn't seem to have the same population of shaved-heads as I've seen in some other Eastern countries, and the city itself was so lovely. Their parliament building didn't conform to the otherwise earth-tone color-scheme of the city, and from across the Danube, the ever-present construction that seems to be going on in this part of the world wasn't so noticeable.
If you try to ignore the scaffolding and miniature crane on the right-hand side (and notice the bird in the foreground, which I particularly enjoy), you can almost see how beautiful this building is in real-life. Cranes are so ever-present.

I'm going to make this post a short one, mostly because I'm exhausted, but before I go, I'll leave you with another image that is outfitted partly in scaffolding, this time looking across the river from the other side.
bastion afar
The very tall church in the foreground is beautiful but not what I'd like to direct your attention to. Mostly, I'm taken by the church on the hill and the stone fortress that surrounds it (called, for some reason, the Fisherman's Bastion, even though it's quite a hike from the water). This city was very well-lit; they must know how beautiful it is.

I'll be back in the blogosphere tomorrow. Goodnight all.