Sunday, October 11, 2009

Fall's here

Actually it feels like winter, and with temperatures in the upper 30s Fahrenheit, it sure feels like it!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Spy on me, NSA!

An old friend was in Berlin last week, and I used it as an excuse to take a trip to Teufelsberg (or Devil's mountain in English).  It isn't really a mountain, but a hill which was built using rubble from WWII.  Underneath the hill is an old Nazi war college which couldn't be destroyed because it built too well.  But it's what's on top of this hill that is most interesting now.

At some point during the cold war, the National Security Agency (NSA) of the United States realized that it was the best spot in West Berlin to eavesdrop on Soviet and East Germany communications.  They then built the current structures which were abandoned after the fall of the wall and the reunification of Germany.

We left my apartment in the early afternoon after a big breakfast, and took the S-Bahn to Heerstrasse.  It was just a 15 minutes walk from the station to the fence surrounding the buildings.  There were three fences encircling the top, and you can see where people have cut holes, and where someone has come behind and repaired them.  After walking around for about 5 minutes, we finally found a hole in the first fence behind some bushes.  It was then just a short walk until we found holes in the next two fences.

Once we got inside, it was pretty overwhelming.  The wind was causing these pieces of canvas which once covered one tower to flap and make odd noises.  (Before we could see the complex, I thought it was the sound of a highway or airport.)  We decided to start with the smallest of the buildings, and quickly found our way to the top.  Actually getting into the radar dome required some suspenseful dangling about 20 meters above the ground.  In the dome, the sound was incredible, and I took some videos on my camera to try to record it.

Next we moved on to the second largest building, but it took us a little while to find the staircase.  We didn't have a flashlight with us, and inside of the buildings it was extremely dark.  I was using my camera flash and cell phone to try to light the way, and also then we could see if there were any "dangers" up ahead.  Jason had matches, but they burnt out quickly.  This dome was the second-highest, but it was made out of canvas, so the sound was not as great as the first dome.  Walking around the edge gave you a really good view of the city.

Finally we decided to tackle the tallest building, and it took us a while of exploring passages to find the staircase.  Once we started climbing, it seemed like forever to reach the top--there were nine floors, but it seemed like less from the ground.  Before the dome at the top, there was a metal door that seemed to be locked or stuck.  We pulled hard, but we didn't have any tools which might help us open it.  We almost turned back, but I eventually pulled it open.  Inside the dome, the sound was incredible.  Sounds echoed about five times, and it didn't take us long to start experimenting with trash that people had left behind.  Even slightly tapping the floor with your foot would create a thunderous noise.

It looked like it was about to storm, and it was getting cold so we headed back.  It would be fun to come back with a flashlight, and maybe even spend a night in one of the buildings.

Teufelsberg Photo Album

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Don't let your dog poop here sign

I was out walking around a couple of days ago and noticed this weird no dogs sign.  Since dogs are usually allowed everywhere in Germany, I went closer and realized that the dog was pooping.  I can't remember ever seeing a similar sign before, but now I've seen a couple of them.

 From a design perspective, I don't like the literal representation of the turds--especially the one which is still coming out of the dogs butt.  I think it would have been better if just a single turd mound was used, or just a sign with a turd mound instead of a dog.

But the main flaw is that you'd have a hard time stopping a dog from actually pooping.  They just want you to clean it up.  It's as if the sign was meant to be read by dogs and not humans.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Creative Berlin

One could argue that Berlin is the center of the contemporary creative world.  This, from a New York Times article in 2005, nicely sums it up:
Today, what Prague and London were in the 90's, Berlin has now become: a magnet for anyone who wants to live and work in a city that is humming with cultural energy and, by contrast with the rest of northern Europe, an insane bargain.
Newsweek has run two stories in three years of the same name: Poor But Sexy, which was phrase coined by the openly gay mayor, Klaus Wowereit.  But I think you get the point: Berlin is hip and cheap.

But despite having lived here for almost a year, I only caught glimpses of this part of the city.  Where are the entrepreneurs?  The designers?  The scientists?  Since I returned from Louisiana a month ago, I have been obsessed with trying to tap into this creative energy.  (I admit that most of my zeal comes from not having a job, and my lack of patience trying to find a job by sending out résumés/CVs.)

Inside the dome on top of the Reichstag building

In the last week, I have attended two meetups of smart, interesting, and creative people.  On Wednesday, I met a group which goes by the name LemonTown.  They get together every two weeks to chat about their latest projects, where to find work, and anything creative.  (The founders of the group are also trying to start a freelancing collective called Die Summe.)  The atmosphere is relaxed, and I've always gotten great advice from those who are there.

Last Friday morning, I attended LikeMind Berlin, which meets at the Cafe Oberholtz on the third Friday of the month. This event is slightly more formal than LemonTown, if only because the drink of choice is coffee and not beer.  A wider range of people came out, and it is also more established.  I first found out about it through a NY Times article that I read just a couple of days after their meeting in August.

By going to these two events, I definitely feel more connected to the creative culture--but still not fully immersed.  And I'm still looking for a job!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Let's start again

So it's been a wild couple of months (not really), and since I have more time on my hands these days, I thought I should be writing more. Lucky you.

Above is a picture of all the computer parts I've had break on me in the last month.  It includes an HP notebook, model number dv2500t, which overheated and burned holes into my desk.  (I believe it was a problem with the NVIDIA graphics processor unit.)  Three Western Digital hard drives have also gone bad, but it was because of one defective part.  Right now, I'm using my old old computer which is still working great except that I can't connect more than one external hard drive at a time.  And to top it all off, I had to wait in my apartment for SEVEN HOURS for DHL to come and pick up my broken computer (shown on the bottom-right).

But enough of that garbage, I just had to get it out of my system in order to think more clearly.  In the future, I'll try not to bog you down with the unglamorous aspects of my life--since you, my reader, are most-likely family or friends wanting to live vicariously through me, I will try not to disappoint.  Let's get this party started!

There'll always be more...

Thursday, May 15, 2008


Everything was very last minute. I booked the plane ticket two days before the flight, I bought a guide book the day before I left, and then the next day I was gone.  Here are some highlights of the trip.

Day one:
Caught the train at 8:30 in the morning from Innsbruck in order to make it in time to get to the Munich airport.  On the plane, I met a guy from Istanbul sitting next to me who was studying in Munich. At the end of the flight, he offered me a ride into the city with his mom. This was really great since I hadn't planned exactly how I was going to do it. The airport I flew into is new, and much further away from the city than the main international airport.

They dropped me off at a tram stop, and I took the tram to the stop nearest my hostel. The maps in my guide book were good, but not good enough. As soon as I got off the tram I got pretty turned around, and soon enough, I was lost. There were no street signs that I could read, and the few I saw didn't seem to be on the map.  About 45 minutes later, I found my way to the hostel--luckily just before dark.

Day two:
I woke up in time for the end of breakfast, and decided to see most of the major sites around the hostel. First I went to the Basilica Cistern, next the Hagia Sophia, and then the Blue Mosque.  When I went to the Blue Mosque, it seemed like it was near prayer time since you could head the clerics calling from the megaphons attached to the minarets, and a lot of people were entering. I went to the visitors entrace, read the rules of entry, took of my shoes, and went inside. It was obviously the start of prayer service, but people were still up and walking around. I started walking around to get a better view of the pulpit-like structure when all of a sudden, everyone dropped down. I dropped down too, and soon realized that I was surrounded by people on their knees.  There wasn't much I could do except stay for the service, so that's what I did.  I didn't really understand anything, but it was interesting.

For lunch, I had a delicious Turkish pizza, and then It started to rain so I just went inside an art museum which really just had a bunch of carpets all around.

Day three:
In the morning, I went to the Topkapı Palace which was also just about two blocks away from the hostel.  It was really amazing to see the different chambers, and learn about life as a sultan during the Ottoman Empire. I spent most of the day here, and went back to the hostel to take a nap on the rooftop terrace.

When I got back to the hostel, they told me that they didn't have a bed for me that night, but instead, I could sleep out in the common area. Even though I "booked" five nights, I guess I needed to specify that I wanted a real bed for five nights. It was too late to go searching for another place, and since it was Saturday night, I just decided that I would go out all night and not sleep anyway. In the evening, I went with a few guys I met at the hostel to a Turkish league championship soccer game, and it was really fun. The fans were wild, but I'm not sure they were as wild as in Buenos Aires. After that, I went out with a Brazillian guy who had heard the names of a club from a friend in Brasil, so I went with him to look for it.

But the formula one was going on in Istanbul at the same time, and there were a lot of people in town for the event. When we got to the club, the scene outside was pretty crazy. It was actually a strip of different clubs, and outside were tons of people with paparazzi taking pictures of famous people. I don't think we were dressed up enough and we weren't friends with the bouncers, so we had a pretty hard time getting in. At one place, they wanted us to bribe them about 25 euros to let us in, but since it was almost the end of the night we didn't want to pay.

Day four:
In the morning, I decided to find a new hostel who could garantee me a bed.  Around noon, I should have been tired, but I wasn't. Instead, I went hiking on one of the Prince's Islands which are about a two hour ferry ride away from the city with three other people I met at the hostel. We went to the biggest island, and walked to the top where there's an old monastery.  The architecture of the houses was really, really cool, and the view from the top was amazing. We left the top around 6pm, because we thought that would give us enough time to get back to the ferry dock for the last ferry at 7:30. When we got into town around 6:45, we bought our tickets for the boat, and then realized that the ferry we wanted had just left.  We waited about two hours on the dock for another ferry, but only ones that were going to someplace different came.  No one spoke more than broken English, and we couldn't figure out if we were stuck for good or if there was another boat. Finally another one came at 9:30, and we were relieved that we didn't have to spend the night away from Istanbul.

Day five:
For my last full day in the city I wanted to visit the palaces that were farther away from the center, but I realized that many museums and tourist attractions are closed on Mondays. So I made it a shopping day. First I went to the Grand Bazaar, then I walked to the Spice Market, then to the fish market, and then across to the "new Europe" side to look for some clothes. There were two shops that were listed in the new Lonely Planet as having cool funky t-shirt designs, but after two hours of searching, I found out they were no longer in business.

That night, I wanted to try some real Turkish cuisine instead of cheap pizzas and kebabs, so I went out to a nice restaurant just around the corner from the hostel. I went with five other people I met at the hostel, and we had a great time.

Day six:
I took a shuttle to the airport to catch my flight back to Munich. At the airport, I ran into the same guy and his mom who gave me a ride on Thursday, and I was able to send off some post cards. The plane was not as old as the one that was used the week before, but nonetheless, everyone still clapped loudly when it landed in Munich.

I really wish that the trains ran more often between Innsbruck and Munich, but I ended up having to catch three trains which took a total of three hours to get back to Innsbruck.

I'll post some pictures here soon, but until then, check out my picasaweb album.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Bustin' some (knee) caps

As you may or may not know, I've been snowboarding regularly since I got back from Christmas break. I really don't know why it took me until now to figure out that it was fun, but I think that I had a not so great first time experience that I needed some time to forget. At the late King's Day party I had the Friday after King's Day, we decided that a group of us was going to go on Sunday to Axamer-Lizum, and I would try to snowboard again.

It was my friend Marie's first time on a snowboard, and she was a bit nervous after she ended up on top of the ski school here after her first day of skiing. Her boyfriend Hans was helping her out, and I kept encouraging them just to go to the top and make our way down slowly. For me, the most difficult part about snowboarding is getting into and out of the bindings because my boots are too wide for the bindings that I have now. (But I just ordered some new ones.)

After buying a one-way ticket to the top, we ate a quick lunch at the restaurant, met Joelle and Paul, and then decided to head down. There were some very emotional exchanges between Marie and Hans, reaffirming my opinion that you should have no emotional connection whatsoever to the person who teaches you how to ski or snowboard. In the end we set off, and after the first tricky bit started to have a lot of fun. However it wasn't until we took a Schnapps break at a mountain hut that I really started to improve. That's the Austrian way!

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Skiing for the first time!

For Fall break I was trying to plan some sort of big trip, but in the end I didn't plan anything because I ran out of time. And that's when Paul saved the day by inviting me to go and visit his parents with him and Joelle. There was also talk of skiing, but we weren't sure about the weather. The first day we just relaxed and went to the ruins of this old castle near his house. It was really neat to see because nothing like that exists in the United States. He said that he used to play around it when he was a kid, which would have been awesome.

The next day we went skiing. It took us about 2 hours to drive there, and I slept in the car both ways because I was so tired. The night before, Joelle was given and early Christmas present of skis and boots by Paul's parents, but I had to rent them. After putting on the boots, the first thing that I learned was that skiing hurts. Really hurts! For the first half of the day I could barely walk, and I kept having to take breaks to take of the boots and let my feet rest. Paul had taken me and Joelle to a beginner slope where we didn't have to pay for a lift ticket, while his parents went on the regular slopes.

When we met for lunch, I went back to the store to see if I could trade boots, but they told me that all boots would feel the same. (Not really true.) I was also told that because I wasn't wearing ski socks, it would hurt much more. This was VERY true. They conveniently sold me a pair of socks for 25 euros, and the second half of the day was much better.

The next day we headed into Graz and saw some pretty cool sights. Check out the pictures below! Or go here to see bigger pictures.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Halloween cookies

Austrian's don't really celebrate Halloween like we do in the United States, but the holiday is growing in popularity. Joelle had the idea to make sugar cookies and then decorate them as a way to spread the Halloween cheer. The first batch came out slightly crispy, and but the next batch was perfect. Here are some photos:

Here are the second batch of cookies...yummy!!

Joelle and Paul decorating them.


Sunday, October 28, 2007

Three countries in three hours

In case you haven't studied a map of Austria recently, Innsbruck is in the western part of Austria that is situated between Italy, Switzerland, and Germany (see Google Maps). Today we took a field trip to a convent that's listed as a UNSECO World Heritage site because of frescoes in the church that were painted in the 800s--around when Charlemagne was the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.

On the way to convent, we first crossed into Switzerland so that we could see an ancient Roman toll booth that was built to charge merchants coming through the Reschen Pass (see map).

The Roman toll booth
(The toll booth is kind of hard to see, but it's a square building on the other side of the covered bridge that crosses the river.)

Then we crossed into Italy and drove until a spot along the Lago di Resia where you can see a church steeple sticking out of the water. It's there because the valley was flooded when a dam was built between the two world wars, and flooded several villages. There's a small parking lot, and a spot where they explain what happened.

The church steeple sticking out of the water

Next, we drove into Switzerland where we finally arrived at the convent. It was pretty inside and out, and I bought some raspberry liqueur made by the nuns in the gift shop.

We were all standing outside of the convent

On the way home we stopped in Glorenza (see map) for a coffee, which was neat because it's a walled medieval town, and the smallest officially incorporated town in South Tirol.

We stopped in Glorenza for a coffee on the way home.

All the pictures can be seen here!

That's it for now! Tchuess!