Thursday, May 31, 2007

The sites of Horomerice...


Horomerice, where we live, is a nice little village. It even has it's own squash and tennis club. It's right down the street from our house, and in addition to having a decent restaurant - good food but absolutely no ambience - it has some neat whimsical ketches/drawings on the outside walls of the building.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Bee Hive...


Here is a picture from a park near our church - St. Thomas. I took it on a Sunday walk with Kathy last month while Noah attended Sunday school. I didn't post it at the time - I used other pictures of peacocks in the park instead. Anyway, this is a pretty neat bee hive. You can't tell from the picture that there are a LOT of bees coming and going from this hive. They enter and exit from the slot under the "chin". I didn't linger after snapping the picture.








The second picture is just that of a vine covered chimney of a greenhouse that is very near the bee hive.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Another party for Noah...



It's hard to believe that we are in the last three weeks of school, and that Kathy and Noah will be heading back to MN for the summer soon. The after school activities are winding down, too. There are still things to do - Noah attended a birthday party for a friend over the weekend that featured wall climbing and soccer. A dozen 9-year old boys playing sports and eating sugary snacks for three hours. Kathy and I decided to leave and have lunch and do a little exploring.

Monday, May 28, 2007

The streets of Prague...

Last week we went to look at some furniture that a young American girl was selling. She had spent a year here teaching English and was heading back soon. We have been keeping an eye out for some furniture items since we have 5 bedrooms and some look a little spartan. Also, European houses don't have closets so you need wardrobes - and we are a few short. Anyway, we saw what she had and decided to buy a sofabed (from IKEA) for about $50. On the walk back to the metro station we saw this cafe with Louis Armstrong's picture. It looks interesting and we plan to go back and try it out. It was also on Cermakova street - Cermakova is the feminine version of Cermak, which is the surname of my brother-in-law and sister. We've come across the name a few times so far.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

No more 11 minutes...


When Noah could first talk he would always try to convince us to let him stay up longer when we told him it was bedtime. He asked for an extra 30 minutes and I countered with an offer of 5 minutes, then it went to 20 and 8. Eventually, we settled on an agreed to 11 minutes of extra time. So, since he was 3 or so he and I have spent the last 11 minutes before his bedtime doing something that he wants to do (that was also part of the deal).

Noah, being Noah, almost always wants to do something sports related. When he was smaller it was tackle football in the living room. This resulted one time in his breaking my finger. As he ran by me towards the loveseat (his "endzone") I dove and grabbed the elastic band of his pajama bottoms. My finger got under the elastic band, but as I rolled it didn't release and my finger snapped like a dry twig. It's still bent at about 15 degrees. If it wasn't a football game then he would have me throw the football to him as many times as possible in 11 minutes. "Make me dive!" was alway his plea, and I would grade his catches - from 1 to 10. Hockey was also a big sport for 11 minutes.

Since we moved to Prague last summer, he has gotten very interested in soccer - which he insists on calling football (despite the fact that real football is played with a quarterback and oblong ball). We play soccer in the living room - he used to want me to shoot on him, but lately he wants to shoot on me.

I have a bad back and as he has gotten bigger the sports we played during 11 minutes has often left me worse for wear. I was usually relieved when the 11 minutes are up, but I also enjoy the time with him. Even if we got home late from going to a movie, or out to see friends or relatives, he would always ask for 11 minutes. This would lead to further negotiations and usually result in a shortening to 5 minutes. But time playing together is always something he insisted on.

Or at least he did. One day last week he didn't mention 11 minutes and ended up going straight to bed. I figured that it was an aberation and that he would get mad when he realized he had forgotten and missed out on 11 minutes for the night. But no, the next evening he again went up to bed without thinking about 11 minutes. It's now been a week and I suspect that 11 minutes is gone for good. We have done it nearly every night for over 6 years - most of his life - and it suddenly has just stopped. I now can sleep through the night because my back doesn't ache, but I don't think the tradeoff is worth it. I miss my special 11 minutes with him every evening.

I am hoping that the time spent together playing for 11 minutes every night will be replaced by other things that we do together, albeit less regularly. We have talked about taking road trips to see three baseball games or three hockey games in other cities. That would be fun. But I also dread the day - and I know it will come - when he won't want to spend time with me at all. I'll just be the embarrasing, very uncool, dad. Sigh! There's a good chance that we will get close again when he is older - after he has his own experiences and realizes that his dad (and mom) knew more than he gave them credit for. But for now all I know is that I've lost 11 minutes every evening with Noah, and those were the best 11 minutes of my day.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Venus, the Moon and the Castle...


I know that header sounds like the album that Cat Stevens would have made if he hadn't converted to Islam (new name "Yusaf Islam") and given up pop music. This picture was taken from the balcony of the apartment of a co-worker (the director of HR) in Mala Strana (Lesser Town). She had invited Kathy and I and another couple over for dinner. After dinner there were some fireworks at a nearby park so we went on the balcony for a look. I don't have pictures of the fireworks, but I noticed the striking image of the moon and Venus (I'm assuming it's Venus because of how bright it is) close together in the sky in the vicinity of the castle. The picture is a little blurry because of the exposure time used - and I didn't have a tripod. Anyway, I think it's still a pretty neat picture.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Trip to Poland..


On Monday Kathy made a day trip to Poland - actually just a little town not far from the Czech border - to shop for pottery. Pottery is a specialty of the area and you can get a lot of the same patterns that you can in the US, just at much cheaper prices. It's sbout 3 hours each way so Kathy and her friends left about 9:00 in the morning and got back about 8:30 in the evening. Kathy found some nice pieces, but hers was more of a scouting trip for us to go back later and get some things to take back with us. On the way to Poland they went through the Czech city of Liberec, which has a big waterpark. We're thinking of taking a weekend and spending one night in Poland for shopping and then the next night at the waterpark. It's the only sure way to get Noah to put up with an afternoon of shopping.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The President is coming...


I just left our daily editorial meeting where it was announced that President George W. Bush will be visiting Radio Free Europe during his upcoming visit to the Czech Republic. He will be here in the afternoon on Tuesday, June 5th, and will give a speech to our staff in our Hall of the People - where the former Czechoslovak parliament used to convene (our building is the former Czechoslovak parliament building). Also in attendance here will be members of an international dissdent conference being held in Prague from 4-6 June. Information on that conference is below. While I imagine that the security for this visit will be horrendous, it is very exciting news. I'm glad I came to work here.

From the web site abcprague.com:

Prague will host an international conference on “Democracy and Security: Core Values and Sound Policies” attended by leading dissidents, human rights activists, academics and world leaders. Its aim is to discuss the importance of democracy and to find the ways how to promote it in totalitarian regimes.

The conference is an initiative of three people concentrating on human rights and democracy – human right activist and political leader Natan Sharansky, former president of the Czech Republic Vaclav Havel and former Prime Minister of Spain Jose Maria Aznar.

The conference, scheduled for 4th – 6th June 2007 in Prague, is hosted by the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies at the Jerusalem-based Shalem Center, the Prague Security Studies Institute and the Foundation for Social Analysis and Studies in Madrid. One of the speakers at the conference will be the U.S. President George W. Bush.


Monday, May 21, 2007

What I don't do...



I have working on the blog for over six weeks now, and I haven't yet dealved in any detail about what I do, or even very much about the company I work for - Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. I will get to all of that eventually, but for now let me tell you what I don't do.

I'm not a spy! There are many of you who have - quite independently - come to the conclusion that I work for the CIA. Well, I'm not a spy. I'm not one now and I never have been one. That being said, I guess I understand how some of you could get that impression. I did take Russian and political Science in college. I have worked in the general area of "defense" either with the U.S. Government or on the private side, for over 25 years. And it's also true that I have been to many places in the world just before or after a significant event. Saudi Arabia in 1991 after the Gulf War and back again in 1996 after the bombing of the U.S. Army installation where I had worked. Moscow in 1993 just after the failed coup attempt against Boris Yeltsin. Israel in 2000 just before the start of the first Palestinian intafada. Egypt in 2003 just a couple of days after the Iraq War started. And, to be fair, I did interview with the CIA back in 1985. I didn't get the job [them: "Have you ever used marijuana?" me: "You mean 'ever'?"] and never tried again to work there (or the NSA or the FBI or Homeland Security). And it's also another coincidence that the company I work for now, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, was clandestinely funded by the CIA for more than 20 years.

From Wikipedia: "RFE received its funds from the Congress of the United States and until 1971 they were passed to RFE through the CIA. During the earliest years of Radio Free Europe's existence, the CIA and the U.S. State Department issued broad policy directives, and a system evolved where broadcast policy was determined through negotiation between the CIA, the U.S. State Department, and RFE staff. This system continued until the controversy surrounding Radio Free Europe's broadcasts to Hungary during the 1956 revolt. There is some evidence, however, that the CIA did involve itself in RFE projects at least through the mid-1950's.[6] The CIA funding of RFE was not publicly acknowledged until 1971 at which point the organization was rechartered in Newton as a non-profit corporation, oversight was moved to the Board for International Broadcasting (BIB), and the budget was moved to open appropriations."

After re-reading what I have written, I've almost convinced myself that I must be a spy (but I'm not - but that's what you would expect me to say, isn't it?). Next time I'll go into what I do do...

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Music Video Theatre - Veronica by Elvis Costello...

I am a HUGE Elvis Costello fan and have been since 1977. I remember his performance on Saturday Night Live when he stopped playing his planned song (sorry, I don't remember which one) and switched to Radio Radio, an indictment of the radio industry. Because of that he was banned from Saturday Night Live for many years. Anyway, for as good a songwriter and performer as he is, he is not known for his music videos. Somehow, I think he felt that music videos were just commercials for the songs and wasn't that interested in them.

There is one that is very good, and it's Veronica. It's the story of an old woman (aunt? grandmother?) that he knows and the song is her dealing with Alzheimers and living in the past with little making it through to the current outside word. Elvis does a good job of personalizing the song before and after the song, but you will notice while most artists lip synch to the song he is purposely singing along slightly out of synch, like you or I would do if we were singing along with a song on the radio. Ah, always the rebel. I don't know who the woman is who plays the old Veronica, but she does a good job. The song is from 1986 - has it really been that long? Elvis has never been a Top 40 artist, but this is probably his second biggest commercial success, after Every Day I Write the Book.

Little known fact: The song was co-written by Elvis and Paul McCartney at a time that they were doing some collaborating - Elvis co-wrote two songs from NcCartney's album of the time, Flowers in the Dirt. But to my ear it sounds so much like a Costello song that I personally doubt that McCartney had much input.




Veronica

Is it all in that pretty little head of yours?
What goes on in that place in the dark?
Well I used to know a girl and I could have sworn
that her name was Veronica
Well she used to have a carefree mind of her own
and a delicate look in her eye
These days I'm afraid she's not even sure if her
name is Veronica

Chorus:

Do you suppose, that waiting hands on eyes,
Veronica has gone to hide?
and all the time she laughs at those who shout
her name and steal her clothes.
Veronica, Veronica, Veronica


Did the days drag by? Did the favours wane?
Did he roam down the town all the while?
did you wake from your dream, with a wolf at
the door, reaching out for Veronica
Well it was all of sixty-five years ago
When the world was the street where she lived
And a young man sailed on a ship in the sea
With a picture of Veronica

On the "Empress of India"
And as she closed her eyes upon the world and
picked upon the bones of last week's news
She spoke his name outloud again

Chorus:

Do you suppose, that waiting hands on eyes,
Veronica has gone to hide?
and all the time she laughs at those who shout

her name and steal her clothes.
Veronica, Veronica, Veronica


Veronica sits in her favorite chair
she sits very quiet and still
when they called her a name that they never get right
and that they'l know nobody else will

well she used to have a carefree mind of her own
with a devilish look in her eye
saying you can call me anything you like
but my name is Veronica

Chorus:

Do you suppose, that waiting hands on eyes,
Veronica has gone to hide?
and all the time she laughs at those who shout

her name and steal her clothes.
Veronica, Veronica, Veronica

Danny's race car update...


The mini-F1 car competition continues until tomorow. The SAE has posted some pictures from the event so far at their web site, but no results have been posted. One of the pictures is of Danny with the car that he and the rest of the engineering team at Marquette built. Here it is (Danny is in the green shirt standing over the driver). We'll post more pictures and results - hopefully tomorrow.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Another vintage Radio Free Europe PSA...

Isn't YouTube amazing? Here is another vintage public service announcement (PSA) for Radio Free Europe, and it stars Ronald Reagan! It doesn't give the year, but a quick search of google (isn't google amazing?) yields that World Freedom Bell mentioned in the PSA was dedicated in 1950, so that would put this ad probably in 1951.



Upon doing a little more research on google I found that the symbol of RFE/RL until recently was the World Freeddom Bell. I had assumed that the logo represented the Liberty Bell. Our RFE/RL web site has some historical information, and it says:

"It starts with an account of how Radio Free Europe (RFE) came to take the bell as its symbol. It was not, as some people mistakenly believe, America's famously cracked Liberty Bell. The origins of RFE's logo are a 10-ton bell especially made in the British foundry Gillett and Johnston and decorated with a frieze of five figures representing the five races of mankind passing the torch of freedom. It arrived in New York in 1949 and traveled to 21 cities in the United States as part of the "Crusade for Freedom" drive to raise money to found and promote Radio Free Europe. More than 16 million Americans responded with contributions and RFE and its bell logo were born. Instead of the five figures, the RFE bell logo had a vertical divide into a darker and lighter side, generally interpreted as the divide between the democratic West and the communist East. But for many years now, Europe has been whole and almost free and both the dividing line and the bell have lost their meaning. The original Freedom Bell was permanently installed in West Berlin in 1950. Few people today know where it is, why it is there, and what it represents."


The web site Bells of Peace and Freedom says of the Freedom Bell "(it) has chimed every day at midday from the tower of Rathaus Schöneberg. Its sound has become the symbol of freedom in our city, the expression of American support for Berlin and the symbol of German-American friendship." One other note, the Rathaus Schoenberg (city hall) where the Feeedom Bell resides is where President Kennedy gave his famous "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech in June 1963.

The Berlin Mauer...


Just a final note on our trip to Berlin. We discovered, thanks to our interest in the Berlin Wall, that the German word for "wall" is "mauer". So Twins' catcher Joe Mauer is really Joe "The Wall". That's a fitting coincidence for the best catcher in baseball.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Danny's Formula race car...


Danny is the student president of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) at Marquette University. One of the competitions involves racing of formula cars designed and built by the students. The competition is this weekend in Detroit and there will be cars from 130 colleges and universities from all over the U.S. and other countries (including Brazil, Austria, Finland, Japan, South Korea, Venezuela and Australia). Danny heads up the team from Marquette.




From the SAE web site:

What is FSAE?
The Formula SAE® competition is for SAE student members to conceive, design, fabricate, and compete with small formula-style racing cars. The restrictions on the car frame and engine are limited so that the knowledge, creativity, and imagination of the students are challenged. The cars are built with a team effort over a period of about one year and are taken to the annual competition for judging and comparison with approximately 120 other vehicles from colleges and universities throughout the world. The end result is a great experience for young engineers in a meaningful engineering project as well as the opportunity of working in a dedicated team effort.




We don't have any pictures of his finished car, but will post some, and the results of the competition, when we get them from Danny.

Monday, May 14, 2007

A Danish Copper Wedding Anniversary Party...

On Saturday evening Kathy and I were invited to a Danish couple's house to celebrate their 12 1/2 year anniversary. This is a traditional Danish thing - one explanation is that most couples don't make it to 25 years, so 12 1/2 is the new 25. Called a copper wedding, traditionally friends and family build the couple half an arch made from spruce (you get the other half when you reach your 25th). The arch is decorated with flowers and lights and positioned at the door of the home. In this case the half arch was cardboard, not spruce.

There were about 20 guests and the Christensens hired an Italian chef - Roberto - to do the cooking. It was really an amazing evening. Of the 20+ people, the only other American besides me and Kathy was the chef's wife, Sandra, and she is part native American. The guests were from Japan, South Africa, Malaysia, France and, of course, Denmark. There were probably others as well. The atmosphere was very reminicient to me of the old Tischler wedding receptions. It was very loud as we got deeper into the evening, and the wine flowed freely. The courses were served leisurely, with plenty of time for socializing (and more wine drinking) in between. After we found out how Mette and Jakob met we ended up going around the room and every couple told the story of how they met and how they got engaged. It was hilarious. Kathy and I agreed that it was the most fun we have had since moving to Prague. The hosts, the other guests, the food, the wine, the conversation...all was exquisite.



Here is Roberto with a few of his creations, including veal, pasta and beef.
















Here is Kathy with Mette Christensen.




This is the happy couple, Jakob and Mette Christensen. Jakob gave a very moving toast to his wife that proclaimed his eternal love.





Here is Kathy with Marlinda and Mirgoul.





This is Jean Marie, from France (on the left) and Derek, from South Africa (on the right). Derek works for Pilsner Urquell brewery - how cool is that - and also worked in Moscow for a Russian brewery.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Happy Mother's Day...


The moment a child is born, the mother is also born. She never existed before. The woman existed, but the mother, never. A mother is something absolutely new. ~Rajneesh




Happy Mother's Day to all of the special women in my life.

My wife, Kathy, for 10 great years of marriage and for giving me Noah, my big, little guy.

My mom, Joy, for giving me and my sisters life. I know this will be a very difficult Mother's Day you, but always know that we love and support you.

My mother-in-law, Gert, for giving me Kathy and for being the exact opposite of the stereotypical mother-in-law.

My other mother-in-law, Donna, for giving me Debbie. It has been a long time since we lost Debbie, but I will never forget my time with her. Thank you and Gerry for being the special grandparents for Noah.

My sisters, for all the nieces and nephews - as Father Romauld would say, they are all 'saints, scholars, ladies and gentlemen".

Saturday, May 12, 2007

More sites of Berlin...

I'll try to finish up with the Berlin trip today (no promises, though) by posting some pictures of other things we saw there.



This is the Victory Column about a mile west of the Brandenburg Gate through the Tiergarten. Wikipedia says "Surrounded by a street circle with heavy car traffic, pedestrians can reach the column through four tunnels, built in 1941 to plans by Albert Speer. Via a steep spiral staircase of 285 steps, the physically fit may climb up almost to the top of the pillar, to right underneath the statue, for a small fee and a spectacular view over the Tiergarten. Even many Berliners do not know that originally the column was erected with a height of merely 50.66 meters opposite the Reichstag building. In preparation of executing the monumental plans to redesign Berlin into Welthauptstadt Germania, in 1939, the Nazis relocated the pillar to its present location at the Großer Stern (Great Star), a large intersection on the visual city axis that leads from the former Berliner Stadtschloss (Berlin City Palace) through the Brandenburg Gate to the western parts of Berlin. At the same time, the pillar was augmented by another 7.5 meters, giving it its present height of 66.89 meters. The monument survived World War II without much damage. The relocation of the monument probably saved it from destruction, as its old site in front of the Reichstag was destroyed in the war."





The Brandenburg Gate is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Berlin. Again, Wikipedia - "it is the only remaining gate of a series through which one formerly entered Berlin. One block to its north lies the Reichstag. It constitutes the monumental termination of Unter den Linden, the renowned boulevard of Lime trees which led directly to the royal residence. It was commissioned by Friedrich Wilhelm II as a sign of peace and built by Carl Gotthard Langhans from 1788 to 1791.
While the main design of the Brandenburg Gate has remained the same since it was completed, the gate has played varying roles in Germany's history. First, Napoleon took the Quadriga to Paris in 1806 after conquering Berlin. When it returned to Berlin in 1814, the statue exchanged her olive wreath for the Iron Cross and became the goddess of victory.

When the Nazis rose to power, they used the gate to symbolize their power. The only structure left standing in the ruins of Pariser Platz in 1945, apart from the ruined Academy of Fine Arts, the gate was restored by the East Berlin and West Berlin governments. However, in 1961, the gate was closed when the Berlin Wall was built.

In 1963 U.S. President John F. Kennedy visited the Brandenburg Gate. The Soviets hung large banners across it so he could not see the East Berlin side. On June 12, 1987 U.S. President Ronald Reagan delivered a speech ("Tear down this wall") to the people of West Berlin at the Brandenburg Gate, yet it was also audible on the East Berlin side of the Wall."





Checkpoint Charlie - it's just the little wooden building with sandbags and flower memorials. Wikipedia points out "the checkpoint was curiously asymmetrical. During its 27-year active life, the infrastructure on the Eastern side was expanded to include not only the wall, watchtower and zig-zag barriers, but a multi-lane shed where cars and their occupants were checked. However the American authorities, perhaps not wanting to concede that the division of Germany might be anything other than a temporary aberration, never erected any permanent buildings, and made do with the iconic wooden shed."






Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church (in background) - [Wikipedia] "During World War II, the church was destroyed during a British RAF bombing raid in 1943. The only remainder of the old building is the ruin of the belfry, which are also referred to as "der Hohle Zahn" ("the hollow tooth").
After the war, from 1951 to 1961, a new church was built right next to the site of the old one according to the plans of Egon Eiermann. It features a cross made of nails from the old Coventry Cathedral, destroyed by German Luftwaffe bomb attacks in Britain, in what was called the Coventry Blitz. It was consecrated on May 25, 1962, the same day as the new Coventry Cathedral, which like the Gedächtniskirche, was built alongside the ruins of the old building, which were kept as reminders of the horrors of war."

Friday, May 11, 2007

The Holocaust Memorial in Berlin...
















I mentioned it in an earlier post, but here are a couple of pictures of Noah from our visit to Berlin's Holocaust Memorial (formally known as the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe). We tried to give him an idea of how the Jews were targeted by Hitler and told him how many were killed, but I think it's just too big a number for him to comprehend. I'm satified with him understanding that "Hitler was bad". We'll try for more teaching moments as he gets older.

Wikipedia says that it was "designed by architect Peter Eisenman and engineers Buro Happold. It consists of a 19,000 square meter (4.7 acre) site covered with 2,711 concrete slabs or "stelae", arranged in a grid pattern on a sloping field. The stelae are 2.38m (7.8') long, 0.95m (3' 1.5") wide and vary in height from 0.2m to 4.8m (8" to 15'9"). According to Eisenman's project text, the stelae are designed to produce an uneasy, confusing atmosphere, and the whole sculpture aims to represent a supposedly ordered system that has lost touch with human reason. A 2005 copy of the Foundation for the Memorial's official English tourist pamphlet, however, states that the design represents a radical approach to the traditional concept of a memorial, partly because Eisenman did not use any symbolism. An attached underground "Place of Information" (German: Ort der Information) holds the names of all known Jewish Holocaust victims, obtained from the Israeli museum Yad Vashem."

We did not go to the "Place of Information" (why not just call it a museum?) but will next time. We really enjoyed Berlin and plan to go back.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

"Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"

With everything that is wrong with the world we live in, the visit to Berlin has made me reflect on some of the big and wonderful things that have happened in the not too distant past. Nazism was crushed in 1945 only to be replaced by Communism as the primary threat to mankind.
It was 20 years ago - June 12, 1987, to be exact - that President Ronald Reagan in a speech at the Brandenburg Gate, in the shadow of the Berlin Wall, challenged Soviet General Secretery Gorbachev to "tear down this wall". I went to YouTube and pulled up that part of Reagan's speech just to remember what a geat moment it was. Here it is.



Within two and half years, in October of 1989, the Berlin Wall was effectively down. Here is a part of a report from the late Peter Jennings of ABC News covering those events.



Despite all of our current problems there have been some huge successes against tyranny. I hope that 20 years from now we can say the same thing.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

The Humble Currywurst...


The most prevalent food item for sale from the numerous street vendors in Berlin is something called currywurst. It is considered "fast food" and as its name implies, it is a sausage with curry added. It is served on a plate, cut into sections and covered with a ketchup which has also been flavored with curry.

Wikipedia has this to say about currywurst: "Currywurst seems to have been invented in the post-World War II years, although the exact time and place of the event remain subject to controversy. According to the Berlin legend, currywurst sauce was invented by one Herta Heuwer (b. 30 June 1913, Königsberg, d. 3 July 1999 in Berlin) when, while waiting for customers at her sausage stall in Berlin's Charlottenburg district on the rainy day of 4 September 1949, she started to experiment with the ingredients out of sheer boredom. According to the Ruhr area legend, the sauce was accidentally invented by a sausage stall owner in Essen, who dropped a can with curry powder into some ketchup. In his 1993 novella entitled Die Entdeckung der Currywurst ("The Discovery of the Currywurst"), the renowned author Uwe Timm dates it to 1947 and attributes it to a fictional character called Lena Brücker, who ran a stall in Hamburg. Early in his career, Herbert Grönemeyer, raised in Bochum and arguably the most successful German pop singer, devoted a song to currywurst with lyrics in the typical sociolect of the Ruhr Area."

Currywurst was our first meal in Berlin when we left the hotel to explore the surrounding area and ended up in a little street stand near the Brandenburg Gate. Kathy had told me about this supposed delicacy, and I was actually keen to try it, since I love spicy food, and Indian food, and spicy Indian food. However, the combining of hot dogs and curry doesn't create some new superfood. It tastes like a hot dog with curry on it. And the curry flavored ketchup is just overkill.

There is a currywurst museum in Berlin that we, alas, did not visit.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Going to the match - Hertha BSC


When we visited Geneva in February, Noah and I went to the local professional soccer team – AC Seville. AC Seville plays in a very nice, new stadium that seats about 35,000, but the day we were there the announced crowd was about 2,900. Just by chance I noticed that the Berlin team in the Bundesliga – Hertha BSC – played on the Sunday that we were here in Berlin. So I decided that we would go and continue the new tradition. It was quite a different experience from Geneva. Hertha BSC plays in Olympic Stadium – the same stadium where Jesse Owens humiliated Adolph Hitler in the 1936 Games. We stopped by the stadium on Sunday afternoon just to make sure we could find it, and as long as we were there we decided to try the ticket office. They were open and there were only a few seats left, so we bought a couple (I don’t force Kathy to attend these games, and Noah doesn’t encourage her to attend anyway). There must have been 80,000 fans at this game, and we were in the absolute last row of the upper deck. Unfortunately, Hertha lost a man to a red card in the 36th minute, so they played most of the game shorthanded. They fell behind 3-0 and were able to salvage a single goal, before going down to a 4-1 defeat. It was a great time, and it was certainly cool to be in a stadium with such history (compared to, say, the Metrodome).

We're safely back in Prague...


No significant events. We did stop in Dresden on the way back to do a little shopping and we missed the exit for mall we wanted to visit. After getting lost trying to make our way back I decided to see if the Garmin had the mall in its "Shopping" database. It had it - Elbe Park - so I pushed the button and off we went. It showed a 30 minute drive time, which I thought was a bit long since we hadn't gotten THAT lost, but it hadn't let us down yet. When we got there we realized that there were two entries in the database - Elbe Center and Elbe Park - and we had used the wrong one. The one we wanted - Elbe Park - was back near where we had started and it took another 30 muinutes to get back. Oh, well, at least the scenery was pretty. And I bought a push mower - not gas or electric, but the one with the twirling blades when you push it. Only 46 Euros. Also got a few other things that we can't get in Prague - Diet Sprite and vinegar.
Even though we are back I will add more posts over the next few from our trip to Berlin. We loved Berlin and have decided to go back at some point before we move back to the States.

Monday, May 7, 2007

The Reichstag...




The Reichstag is where the pre-Nazi parliament met. It was built in the 1890s, but became important on February 27, 1933 when it was destroyed by fire. Adolph Hitler blamed the communists for the fire and used it as a pretense for sweeping new dictatorial powers. It was then destroyed by Allied bombing during WWII. It was remade in the late 1990s after the fall of the Wall and is now a fascinating mix of the old and the new. Where the original dome of the Reichstag had been is now a glass dome with an interior ramp that you can walk up to get a splendid view of Berlin.





There is a part of me that is very sad to be in Berlin. My dad loved reading about the Nazis, and Hitler and the war in Europe. This is a little ironic, since he did not fight in WWII but was in the army and spent time in Japan after the war ended so I’m not sure what was the genesis of his interest in Hitler and the Nazis. Kathy and I had planned on taking my parents on a trip to Germany in late September of 2001, but 9/11 forced the cancellation of that trip. We rescheduled for the following fall, but my dad had gotten sick and refused to go to the doctor and ended up with pneumonia and congestive heart failure so we had to cancel again. Finally, we were planning on my parents coming over this fall but my dad…well, that didn’t work either. So as we were touring the Reichstag and visiting the Holocaust memorial and seeing the other sites of Berlin, I know that my dad would have loved to be here with us seeing the sites. And maybe he was.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Blogging from Berlin...

Well, the Fjord Hotel has wi-fi so I'm takin the opportunity to post a little of what we are doing here.

We got to the hotel just fine (I hate to obsess on the Garmin, but it really does make all the difference). The Fjord Hotel is just what we were looking for – clean, cheap and near the underground and at least some attractions. We got an internet special when booking the room so it ended up at about $110 per night for a “family” room. That just means a king size bed along with a sofabed. Parking is also included in the rate, which saves about 10-15 Euros per day as most other hotels charge for parking. They don’t have a restaurant but they do have a room and terrace on the top floor where they serve a buffet breakfast,t which costs 10 Euro per person. We did that on Sunday morning because the weather was gorgeous and it was great to relax and have breakfast with a view.




The Sony Center and all of Potsdamer Platz were impressive. It’s only a 10 minute walk from the hotel and there is lots to do there (Imax theatre, mall, restaurants, etc.). Another 5 minute walk takes you to the Holocaust memorial. It, too, was very impressive. Just a bit further up is the Brandenburg Gate and then the Reichstag. I hope to post on the Reichstag tomorrow, but here are Kathy and Noah at Sony Center at Potsdamer Plaz.

Friday, May 4, 2007

We're off to Berlin...


We will be heading to Berlin tomorrow (Saturday) since next Tuesday, May 8th, is a holiday throughut Europe as VE (Victory in Europe) Day, celebrating the end of WWII in Europe (VJ Day - for Victory in Japan - is August 14th). I will be taking off work on Monday (and Noah won't be going to school) so we be in Berlin through Tuesday. I am relying on the old Garmin to get me there efficiently and I'm confident it can, since the maps of Germany are more detailed then the maps of the Czech Republic. I've already plugged the hotel address into the Garmin and it shows it as a 3:50 drive. It may take longer depending on how long we have to spend at the border. We are very excited about this trip since we hear from everyone what a beautiful city Berlin is. I'm not sure what the local mood will be in the city where Hitler committed suicide on the day celebrating the defeat of Nazi Germany, but we shall see.

We are staying at a medium priced hotel about 1 kilomter from Potsdamer Platz, which is described at the berlin.de (Senate Department for Urban Renewal) web site as "One of the busiest places in the world during the 20's and later the sad motif of a divided city, Potsdamer Platz became the symbol of Berlin's renewal after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Once completed, Potsdamer Platz presented itself as a city within the city, as a location where the most varied urban planning principles of the outgoing 20th and incoming 21st century were jointly realised."

Other than general exploring, we do plan on seeing a Berlin soccer match on Sunday evening. We had gone to see the local pro soccer team in Geneva when we were there and Noah loved it. I am especially interested since the match is at Berlin's Olympic Stadium where Jesse Owens humiliated Adolph Hitler by winning four gold medals in the 1936 Games.

We also plan on some heavy duty shopping because there are many things that either aren't available in Prague or are horrendously expensive. One thing we hope to buy is a gas grill.

I don't think I will be blogging while we are there, so it may be Tuesday before I can provide an update.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Making movies in Prague...



I am a big movie fan so it is interesting to me that there are a lot of Hollywood movies that are made in the Czech Republic. Casino Royale was partially filmed here, as was one of the Mission: Impossible movies and The Chronicles of Narnia series. Starting this week Angelina Jolie and Morgan Freeman will be in Prague to film the upcoming spy/assassin movie, Wanted. [Again with the spys in Prague. I don't get it]. Filming here will take about six weeks. Part of Angelina's contract calls for her hubby, Brad Pitt, to get lessons in flying a helicopter while she is busy working.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

The Bone Church...

With today being a holiday, the three of us took a trip to Kutna Hora, a city about an hour southeast of Prague. Thanks to the old Garmin GPS we got there and back without serious delay (it has been the best investment since we got here - along with the new digital camera). There are many interesting things to see in Kutna Hora, but by far the most unusual is the Kostnice, or "Ossuary". It is a church-like building in the middle of a cemetery that uses the bones from 40,000 people in, shall we say, artistic ways. The explanation is below, but first look at some pictures. There are other pictures by using the link.


This is looking back at the entrance from inside the Ossuary.














A small stack of skulls and bones. Part of a very big stack, and there are several large stacks within the Ossuary.
















Here is a coat of arms made exclusively from human bones. This is one of the large stack of bones mentioned earlier.




















Here is a closeup from the coat of arms showing a bird (made of bones) picking at the eyes of a skull.














Here is one of several candleabras. In the background you will notice a bone chandelier.


Explanation: Here is what Fodor's says about the Ossuary. "The origins...go back to the Middle Ages when war and plague filled the adjoining cemetery to bursting point and extra space had to be found to house the surplus skeletons. A blind monk is said to have arranged the bones in simple patterns in the 16th century, but the present facinating displays date from the late 19th century." However, the information at the Ossuary itself said that soil from Jerusalem was brought back and sprinkled on the grounds of the cemetery and this caused a lot more people to want to be buried there. Which explanation is right? Both? Neither?


The Ossuary is creepy, and the pictures are reminiscent of Pol Pot's Cambodia. However, these people (by and large) were not murdered and there are no sinister feelings about it. To tell you the truth, I would feel better if my bones ended up in a place like this than just in a hole in the ground.