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Saturday, June 21, 2008

The last post (probably)...

I am setting up this message to post at the same time we are scheduled to leave Prague - 12:50 PM on Saturday. My last day at work I was busy to almost the bitter end, finally sneaking out about 4:30 for a couple of last beers with some of the IT guys (who are actually about the most interesting and fun people here, imagine that). I had to finish the performance appraisals for my employees even though they aren't due to be finished until late July since there isn't anyone else here who can do it.

All in all I am satisfied with my time here. RFE/RL is a great institution and Prague is a fantastic cityin which to live. In addition, the opportunities to travel from right in the middle of Europe are truly staggering. Noah was able to meet friends from literally dozens of countries and Kathy was able to do the same and be able to enjoy not working for a couple of years (although she has been extremely busy the entire time in Prague).

We look forward to getting back to Minnesota. Here is a partial list of what we are excited about:
- having most family and friends close at hand
- shopping at Target
- shopping at Best Buy
- going to movies every week
- no language frustration while shopping or at the doctor
- golfing regularly (Al only)
- driving on wide street with signs in English

I am not looking forward to going back to American beer, since they taste like water compared to Czech beers and ome only in those cute little 12 ounce bottles (as opposed to the more manly 1/2 liter bottles).

That's about it. I don't know if there will be any more posts here or not since we are no longer "Tischlers in Prague", but it was fun while it lasted and was quite an experience (and I am referring both to living in Prague and writing the blog).

Goodbye and good luck.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The last night in the house...

The movers came on Tuesday and started by packing up the garage and then the top bedroom that we used for guests (there are five bedrooms in the house). Yesterday they continued on the two other bedrooms we don't use and the kitchen. Today they are supposed to almost finish, wrapping up tomorrow around noon.

Because our beds will likely be gone by the end of today we have arrangements to stay in a hotel tonight and Friday night (thankfully paid for by the company). So last night was the final night of sleeping in this house. We were only in it for about two years and we only rented, but it's still kind of sad.

Kathy has been stuck at home watching the movers pack stuff up and making sure they behave (they have). It's not very exciting duty but at least it's almost over.

Today after work I go out to a local watering hole (Jama's) for a few beers with some of the guys and tomorrow I basically just check out with all of the various departments (Security, Property) by turning in my badge, laptop and BlackBerry. I've been so busy getting things done that it hardly seems like we are leaving in less than 48 hours.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Am I a Mensch?...

I sent out an email this morning to everyone at RFE/RL here in Prague telling them it has been an honor and a pleasure to have worked with them for the last two years. I have received some very nice replies, including one that said in part "Where I come from, New York, we sometimes use a Yiddish word, which would seem apt to describe you and that is to say you're a real 'mensch'."

I have heard the word "mensch" but did not have a full unserstanding of its meaning so I asked this person for a definition. She sent a link to this blog which includes the definition of the word "mensch" from Leo Rosten, the author of The Joys of Yiddish, as Someone to admire and emulate, someone of noble character. The key to being “a real mensch” is nothing less than character, rectitude, dignity, a sense of what is right, responsible, decorous.

This blog then also gives the steps to menschdom:

1. Help people who cannot help you. A mensch helps people who cannot ever return the favor. He doesn't care if the recipient is rich, famous, or powerful. This doesn't mean that you shouldn't help rich, famous, or powerful people (indeed, they may need the most help), but you shouldn't help only rich, famous, and powerful people.

2. Help without the expectation of return. A mensch helps people without the expectation of return--at least in this life. What's the payoff? Not that there has to be a payoff, but the payoff is the pure satisfaction of helping others. Nothing more, nothing less.

3. Help many people. Menschdom is a numbers game: you should help many people, so you don't hide your generosity under a bushel. (Of course, not even a mensch can help everyone. To try to do so would mean failing to help anyone.)

4. Do the right thing the right way. A mensch always does the right thing the right way. She would never cop an attitude like, “We're not as bad as Enron.” There is a bright, clear line between right and wrong, and a mensch never crosses that line.

5. Pay back society. A mensch realizes that he's blessed. For example, entrepreneurs are blessed with vision and passion plus the ability to recruit, raise money, and change the world. These blessings come with the obligation to pay back society. The baseline is that we owe something to society--we're not a doing a favor by paying back society.

So back to the question of whether or not I am a mensch? No, I don't think so, but it is cretainly something to aspire to, and I am happy that there are some who think I am already there.

More paintball for 10-year olds...

On Saturday Noah had another birthday party at the best local paintball facility. Everyone had a good time and there were no serious injuries - although there were a few tears from those hit at relatively close range.

Here is Noah and some of his friends in their protective hear, sans the face mask.

I'm not sure what Noah is doing here other than being very silly. He is a bit of a ham and likes attention even when it's for doing something stupid. I can't wait until he's a teenager.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

We sold the Mondeo...

The biggest item to be taken care of before our departure in one week has been, well, taken care of. We sold our 2003 Ford Mondeo to the brother of a Czech co-worker at RFE/RL. I have the deposit and the transfer of the title will happen on Tuesday. To avoid having to take my own time to do it I will execute a power of attorney to Czech woman, Martina, so she can sign everything for me. We used her to do the same thing when we bought the car. The sale of the Mondeo is a big relief. I got less for it than I had hoped, but the fact that the dollar has fallen sharply has actually helped me, as the crowns I receive will buy more dollars now than they did 2 years ago.

As soon as we get back to Minnesota we will have to buy two new vehicles (meaning new to us, but actually used. I don't buy new cars). Kath is planning to look at the Ford Focus, Dodge Calibre and Chevy Malibu for starters. I would like to get something a bit nicer but will have to see what kind of house we plan to buy.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Goodbyes start...

It's still over a week before we leave, but the Goodbyes have started. Kathy had a ladies coffee get together this morning in her honor (and that of Dana, our friend who is also leaving Prague later in the summer). Kathy said it was very, very nice and that they gave her nice gifts that I will see tonight when I get home.

My staff surprised me with two gifts today as well. A nice coffee table book of Prague that they wrote kind things in and a wonderful ceramic beer mug. I told them that I wasn't sure that I could defile such a mug by pouring American beer into it. Even though I have another week they presented the gifts today because my college intern, Julie, is going on vacation tomorrow and I will be gone before she returns on the 23rd. So this was the last day that all four of us will be together.

Here are Jiri, Julie, and Vera with the National Museum across the street as a backdrop.

The only one missing is my DC employee, Abdul, who left the company a few weeks ago.

Even though I have only been here a bit less than two years I find myself getting emotional about leaving. The department has changed a lot since I got here - for the better I think - and the credit goes to the staff who works for me. I will miss them.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Another soccer tournament...

Yes, ISP played hated Riverside, a small Christian school here in Prague, in a soccer tournament on Wednesday. The weather was absolutely horrible with a steady rain that lasted all day. They played, though, and ISP crushed Riverside 7-0 in the first game and somewhere between 7-0 and 9-0 in the second game (different sources had different scores but by that point the actual score really didn't matter). The ISP side was all boys, while all but one or two of the Riverside team were girls. I make no judgement about relative ability except to say that the boys were much more aggressive in their play.

Noah loves soccer and is convinced that because he has played in Europe he will dominate when he gets back to Minnesota. We'll see. He did score 3 goals over the two games, though, so he doesn't do too badly.

Exuding confidence prior to the first game.

In action against Riverside.

Proud but damp parents.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Blog tidbits...

In slightly more than two weeks we will be moving back to the States and I doubt that I will add new posts to the blog. I might keep the blog going for awhile since most of my hits are on older posts (like the one post I did on Jane Mansfield which still gets a lot of hits). I will probably start another blog on another topic, but if I do I will do it anonymously and it won't deal my family.

Even as I approach the mothballing of the blog, though, there are some significant milestones to savor. As I write this the original hit counter (the small one at the bottom of the left hand side of the blog), which was up and running within a few days of when the blog began in April of 2007, is at 9,997 and I expect it to hit 10,000 by the end of the day. 10,000 hits. If you had asked me when I started if I would reach 10,000 I would have said sure, in 2012. Of course, the daily traffic started quite small and grew over time as there was more content to found by Google searches. So while I have reached 10,000 hits 14 months, I am currently averaging about 1,000 hits a month and about 75% of these hits are first timers, not returning friends and family.

This post is also number 396 and I will hit 400 in the next few days. That's an average of just under one per day (about 93% of the days I add a post), and many of the posts were pretty lame, but at least there was a wide variety of lameness.

I have now had visitors from 96 individual countries or territories (e.g. Puerto Rico and the Palestinian territories) and just yesterday had my first visitor from Iran (also brought to the blog thanks to the post on Jane Mansfield). It proves what a wonderful tool Google is that so many people can find my little blog about this and that. But I never in a million years thought I could reach countries of more than half the planet.

My plan is to convert many of my posts into a book via blurb.com. This is a self-publishing web site that is linkable to some blogs (fortunately, blogger is one of them) so I can create a publisher quality coffee table book of our time in Prague as keepsake.

I have really enjoyed writing the blog and hope that when you stopped by you found something interesting. It was a great learning experience for me and I now feel I could start a blog about anything that interests me and be able to make the blog look good and have interesting features. Thanks for your support.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

A million details...

The movers show up two weeks from today and we are busily preparing. This mostly involves getting rid of things that we don't want or need anymore. It's amazing how much stuff that really is. It didn't help that we brought a lot of stuff over with us that we shouldn't have, but it's understandable considering that the time between when I accepted the position here and when the movers showed up at our house in Minnesoat was just three weeks. And we were trying to finish some big house projects to get it ready to sell.

This time we don't have to worry about selling the house, and that is a big relief. The most significant item to get rid of is our car. We will get less than we had thought for it, mostly because we were not aware that Czechs are suspicious of cars that originate from outside the Czech Republic, and ours came from Germany. There is also a "technical book" that normally goes with the car that we don't have. These two factors will mean a lower price. Still, the car is the one area where the falling dollar will help us since we bought a crown asset with dollars when the dollar was higher and can convert those crowns back to dollars with the dollar lower.

We got rid of the Garmin yesterday since we completed our last trip on Sunday. I could have taken it home but I would have to buy the CD with the maps of the US and that would be a couple of hundred dollars. I'll just get a different one when we move back.

There are a million details to sort out for the move back, but everything is proceeding pretty well. In less than three weeks we will be back in Minnesota!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Back from Germany...

Another successful road trip for the Tischlers. We just got back from our overnightger to the Tropical Islands waterpark about an hour from Berlin.

It is really an amazing place - it's huge. We are lucky that it's low season, after all how many people want to spend $50 a head to go to an indoor waterpark when it's beautiful and in the high 80s outside? So there was plenty of open space in the pools and the lines at things like the water slides were quite light.

We stayed overnight at the park's tent hotel. It was very much like camping - lots of sand, noisy neighbors and the inside of the tent was hot. Still, Noah was so worn out from swimming and running around in the children's play area for so long that he collapsed on his bed at about 11 PM and was out like a light soon after. Kathy followed Noah to sleep within minutes.

Here is Noah in the lagoon, the smaller of the two main water bodies in the park. It has waterfalls, assorted geysers and two decent water slides (oh, and multicolored lights after the sun goes down).

Here is our tent - the one dead center. In the background are the two pay per slide water slides. They are really high, but I don't like them enough to pay $5 per run.

I got up before Kathy and Noah and decided to take a stroll through the park. The park is open 24/7, and when you pay you can stay as long as you want (or can tolerate). I found that many people slept on the wooden lounge chairs on the beach. I'm sure they are made of wood to make them especially uncomfortable. One family had a queen size mattress that they had placed on top of two of these wooden lounge chairs. One guy was sleeping on the floor of one of the bars (I think alcohol may have been a factor). Lord knows what this place is like in winter when as many as 7,000 guests are in here at a time.

Here are Noah and I in front of the lagoon (his favorite place).

If you point a camera at Noah his instinctive reaction is to make bunny ears.

It was a great trip, but I am exhausted. At 6 PM last night that I had enough of swimming and the waterpark and then realized that I had 18 hours to go. Noah has a lot more energy than I do but he ignores me when I say I need to rest.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Our last trip in Europe...

We are heading today for the largest indoor water park in the world for what will be our last trip outside of Prague before we head home. It's Tropical Islands water park and it is housed in an old zeppelin hangar about an hour south of Berlin. Here is the link in English. The web site about.com says about Tropical Islands "the structure spans over 710,000 square feet and is the largest freestanding building in the world. It can accommodate up to 7000 visitors. Tropical Islands offers a variety of attractions in addition to its indoor beach and water rides. Regardless, it easily qualifies as the world's largest indoor water park".

We are doing this primarily as a reward for Noah, who has been a real trooper as we have traveled throughout Europe these past two years. Some of the places haven't been particularly kid friendly and he has blurted out "not another castle!" once or twice when we told him where we were going. Still, I think he has enjoyed everywhere we have gone though he might have thought that we stayed too long. And to be truthful, I'm looking forward to this water park trip as well.

We have decided to stay right in the park. They have tents on the beach that you can rent for the night. They have mattresses and sheets and pretty much all the comforts of home. The park is open 24/7, and when you pay it's good for as long as you stay. So if we were staying at a hotel away from the park we would have to pay twice, for Saturday and then again on Sunday, while this way we only pay the entry fee once. I am a little concerned about the noise level with kids, especially teenagers, playing all night. Oh, well, it's just one night.

Friday, May 30, 2008

A tale of two blogs...

At first blush, Michael Carøe Andersen and I don't have much in common. He is Danish, I am American. He is very young, and I am...not so young. He has grown up with the technology of computers and the internet and I was amazed with the capability of my roomate's TI-99 when he bought it in 1983.

Still, in a bow to what a new and exciting world this has become we met last night for a few beers at a local beer garden. We came to know each other through blogging. His blog, Blogging Gelle, is linked to mine and mine to his. There are a decent number of expats blogging in Prague, but Michael left a few comments on some of my posts and we began to correspond a little. When Michael learned (from my blog) that we were moving back to the States he suggested that we meet for a beer.

The beer garden is in Brevnov and adjacent to the Czech Pop Music museum. Between beers we went through the museum - it was free - and it didn't take long because it was contained in a single room about 15 x 20 feet. The current exhibit is on New Wave/Punk music in Czechoslovakia in the 1980s, but it was all in Czech except for a few paragraphs in English describing the exhibit. I mentioned to Michael that he is too young for New Wave. He agreed and asked for some examples of the genre, so we discussed the Clash, Sex Pistols and Elvis Costello. Then it was back to the garden for more beer.

Michael is a very interesting guy who has spent some time in the States, even interning with a small IT company in Ann Arbor, Michigan (where he attended a Michigan football game). His English is excellent but he also knows German (but, like me, he hasn't managed to learn czech). He has his own IT consulting firm working with clients in Denmark and the US. When I asked how he ended up in Prague when he doesn't market to the Czechs he explained that he and his partner got out a map and decided to move to Prague after also considering Budapest and Berlin. What a great world when you can live anywhere and do the job you like. He has a girlfriend in Malta and has traveled there - check out his blog for pictures. He just got back from a visit to Scandinavia (again, blog and pictures) and is leaving later tonight with some friends for Lisbon for the weekend.

It was a pleasure to have met him, and I wish him every success in the world. To be that young with so much ahead...

Michael is the young one.

I am the less young one.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A memorial for the assassins of Reichsprotektor Reinhard Heydrich...

Memorial to Heydrich's assassins to be in PragueBy ČTK / Published 28 May 2008

Prague, May 27 (CTK) - The ground-breaking ceremony for the memorial to the Operation Anthropoid in which Czechoslovak paratroopers killed acting Reichsprotektor in Bohemia and Moravia Reinhard Heydrich in 1942 took place in Prague 8 Tuesday, exactly 66 years after the attack.

The soldiers flown from London to the Nazi-occupied Bohemia and Moravia fulfilled the oath they had sworn to Edvard Benes, the Czechoslovak president-in-exile, Ales Knizek, director of the Military Historical Institute, said.

"They were real heroes of Czechoslovakia," Knizek said, adding that if it had not been for the help of domestic resistance, the mission would not have been successful.

"If it had not been for these people, we would perhaps speak German now," Knizek said.

The idea to build a memorial to the paratroopers appeared in 1946, but it will only be materialised now.

The Prague 8 town hall has put up a contest for the memorial. Deputy Mayor Vladimira Ludkova (the Civic Democratic Party, ODS) said 21 projects had been delivered.

The jury may select the winner perhaps later today, Ludkova said.

The memorial, that is to cost fewer than five million crowns, should be unveiled exactly in a year, she added.

The memorial will be built virtually at the same place where the mission took place, Ludkova said.

The paratroopers from the Anthropoid unit were sent to help Czech resistance movement from London and to kill Heydrich. They were flown to the Protectorate in December 1941.

Heydrich had been removed to Prague in order to quell the anti-Nazi resistance in the Protectorate in September 1941.

In the aftermath of Heydrich's assassination, the Nazi regime responded with brutal reprisals. It proclaimed the martial law, started mass executions and razed down two Czech villages, Lidice and Lezaky.

The paratroopers were hiding for three weeks, eventually in the crypt of an Orthodox church in Prague. They were eventually betrayed by one of them and the German police tracked them down and killed them all in an exchange of fire [ed. The official version is that the paratroopers committed suicide by shooting themselves rather than be taken prisoner by the Nazis].

Adolf Opalka, Gabcik, Kubis, Josef Valcik, Josef Bublik, Jan Hruby and Jaroslav Svarc died in the ensuing fight with the German police who also executed Orthodox Bishop Gorazd for having provided shelter to them.

It is estimated that over 5,000 people, the vast majority of whom were innocent with no connection to the Heydrich affair, were killed by the Nazis in the reprisals for the assassination. This was a very, very high price indeed, and was done to quell the resistance and prevent further such actions. I hope the new memorial makes mention of the these other victims in addition to the paratroopers.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Cesky Krumlov...

We took a trip today to Cesky Krumlov to check another item off the list of things to see before we leave Prague in a few weeks. The Garmin got us there without an y significant problems (just a little hiccup where a new section of highway was recently completed) and I was even able to bring up the closest parking lot to park in. It was really smooth.

Here we are upon our arrival at Cesky Krumlov. A nice German lady took our picture for us.

Cesky Krumlov is a UNESCO world heritage site and is an amazing place. The Vltava river - the same river that runs through Prague 150 miles to the north - surrounds teh town on three sides. This made the town more easily defended.

From Wikipedia:

Construction of the town and castle began in the late 13th century at a ford in the Vltava River, which was important in trade routes in Bohemia. In 1302 town and castle was owned by the House of Rosenberg. Emperor Rudolf II bought Krumau in 1602 and gave it to his natural son Julius d’Austria. Emperor Ferdinand II gave Krumau to the House of Eggenberg. From 1719 until 1945 the castle belonged to the House of Schwarzenberg. Most of the architecture of the old town and castle dates from the 14th through 17th centuries; the town's structures are mostly in Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque styles. The core of the old town is within a horseshoe bend of the river, with the old Latrán neighborhood and castle on the other side of the Vltava.

The town became part of the Austrian Empire in 1806 and Austria-Hungary in 1866. 8,662 inhabitants lived in Krumau an der Moldau in 1910, including 7,367 Germans and 1,295 Czechs.

After World War I, Krumau belonged from October 1918 until September 1919 to Upper Austria within the Republic of German Austria. In November 1918 Czech troops occupied the town. During the interwar era it was part of Czechoslovakia. Between 1938 and 1945 it was annexed by Nazi Germany as part of the Sudetenland. The town's German-speaking population was expelled after liberation by the American Army during World War II and it was restored to Czechoslovakia.[1]

During the Communist era of Czechoslovakia, Krumlov fell into disrepair, but since the Velvet Revolution of 1989 much of the town's former beauty has been restored, and it is now a major holiday destination popular with tourists from Germany, Austria, and beyond. In August, 2002, the town suffered from damage in the great flood of the Vltava River.

Český Krumlov Castle is unusually large for a town of Krumlov's size; within the Czech Republic it is second in extent only to the Hradčany castle complex of Prague.

Český Krumlov is home to Pivovar Eggenberg brewery. It has also been used as filming locations for movies such as the 2006 films The Illusionist and Hostel.

Part of the castle complex. In the Czech Republic it is second in size only to Prague castle. We climbed up to the area just below the dome.

Here is a picture from the castle looking back down on the town and the Vltava River.

Riding the river is a popular thing to do in Cesky Krumlov.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Starbucks in Prague - Meet the competition...

I wasn't really planning on posting anymore about Starbucks, but finding out that Starbucks will soon be opening it's fifth store already made me change my mind. I only know of four stores - the original on Malostranska namesti, the second in the Palladium Mall (which opened a day before the fateful fire there), the third in Terminal 1 at Prague airport (which opened on March 20), and a new fifth store to be opened at the Avion mall at Zlicin. I don't know yet where the fourth store opened.[Note: I know Zlicin but didn't know the name "Avion Mall". When I googled it I found a mall by that name in Bratislava. So it's possible that the name of the mall is wrong in the article.]

Anyway, the Prague Monitor today has an article on Starbucks and its Czech and other European competitors. I feel that, just like in the States, while there is room for several premium coffee chain, Starbucks will become the "big dog" in the Prague market.

Coffee chains gearing up for tough rivalry in Czech marketBy Jiří Fencl / E15 / Published 21 May 2008
Translated and adapted with permission by the Prague Daily Monitor

The world's largest coffee chain Starbucks, which entered the Czech market only in January this year, is growing fast in the country. A mere four months after it opened the first cafe in Prague's Malostranské náměstí, it is now opening its fifth branch in the Avion Shopping Park in Prague-Zličín.

But for now, local coffee chains can cope with the fierce competition of US chains, including Starbucks' sister KFC and the McDonald's network. For instance, Czech coffee chain Café Emporio more than doubled operating profits year-on-year in 2007, said Emporio chief executive Vladimír Staněk. The company is reluctant to disclose precise data for now.

"Theoretically, it is not a problem to open one shop after another. But every new cafe is a bit of a lottery, particularly as regards the choice of the location. Our chain underwent considerable restructuring in 2007, including the windup of several regional branches which failed to meet the investor's demands," Staněk said.

"Owing to this, we are able to improve our business results relatively fast this year. I think a number of rivals are still facing a similar slimming therapy," he added.

Emporio is getting ready to start another expansion wave, just like the Polish chain Coffee Heaven. The Czech market is the second most important one for this chain, whose chief executive Nikolaos Balamotis says it will not hesitate to open new cafes either.

Coffee&Co is opening new shops at the Tesco store in Karlovy Vary and at Zlaté jablko in Zlín as of May. "We are also planning to open a new cafe in the centre of Prague soon," said Miroslava Vatajová, marketing director at Coffee&Co. "Our goal is to open a new branch roughly every month," said Vatajová.

The strong McDonald's chain is aware of the new rivals, but it is planning to open its own chain, McCafé, all the same. "I think Starbucks will also attract a slightly different segment of customers," McDonald's ČR communications director Drahomíra Jiráková said in January, when Starbucks opened the first branch.

German chain Cup&Cino is allegedly also on its way to the Czech market. Incoma advisers say this is the ideal time for coffee chains to expand.

As a side note, we actually tried a McCafe when we drove to Berchtesgaden last fall. Apart from a language problem, I found the concept and experience to be intriguing. The McCafe was in the store, but its counter was completely separate from the food counter. McDonalds has so many stores that expanding into upscale coffee will cost very little and offer the opportunity of significant increases for revenue and profit. Many people go to Starbucks for not only the coffee but also the laid back atmosphere and wi-fi, but for those who are accustomed to premium coffee may start buying it at McDonalds if it's fast (and maybe a little cheaper).