Exploring West Berlin

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Victory Column 

The past three days I have been really busy at the conference and not much time to do any sightseeing. The conference is being held at the Intercontinental Hotel which is in the West Berlin area of Kurfurstendamm. This has always been a commercial area favored by the upper classes of Berlin. The focus of the city has moved east and today it is more touristy than authentic, according to the excellent guidebook, Rick Steves Berlin. The Germans are fanatical about Christmas and so I had to buy a decoration for our tree at the Kathe Wohlfarht Christmas Ornament Superstore in the Bikini Berlin Shopping Mall.

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Kaiser Wilhelm I Memorial Church 

On my walk from the Kurfurstendamm train station to the hotel, I pass the Kaiser Wilhelm I Memorial Church. It is dedicated to the first Emperor of Germany who reigned from 1871 to 1888, which is the year my dad’s grandfather, Andreas Kralovec, emigrated to the USA at age 18 from Bohemia. He probably remembered Wilhelm’s reign. The church was partially destroyed during an Allied bombing raid and city officials wisely decided to keep it as a reminder of the destruction of the city. A modern church was built next to it.

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One of the many running paths in Tiergarten

The hotel is close to Berlin’s Central Park, the 400-acre Tiergarten Park is a really nice wooded area. I love large urban parks and the Tiergarten fits the bill. This was the site of the infamous June 17, 1953, uprising of East Berliners and subsequent massacre when the rally was closed down by officials. To this day, June 17 is German Unity Day and a national holiday. Hitler moved the iconic Victory Column (Siegessaule) to the center of the park before World War II. The column celebrated Prussian victories over the Danes and Austrians. He had grand plans for his Nazi capital of the world and the tower was to serve as a landmark, Washington Monument-style for the long and wide boulevard from the city center. The tower was moved from near the Reichstag and by doing so, saved it from being destroyed by the Allies. You can walk up the long winding stairs to the top and get a pretty good view of the city. The Tiergarten was close to the hotel that was hosting the conference so during short breaks, I walked around the park. The classic autumn leaves, crisp blue skies and long paths through the forest was such a delight and recharged my energy during the many interviews I had during the three-day conference.

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View from the balcony of our apartment 

Oliver Breaks His Arm

Oliver fell off his bike on Monday after school. He had a small break at the end of his radius, near his right wrist. I shot some video at the Minoh City Hospital. I am learning how to edit video using Final Cut Pro and this is one of my first attempts. 

He is doing OK and is in not any pain. He loved all the attention the cast garnered him at school. Ollie showed up early to school with his Sharpie® for his classmates to sign the cast. 

Berlin Trilogy: Remembering David Bowie

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Ollie poses in front of Hauptstraße 155, 10827 Berlin

Close to our Air BNB apartment in Berlin is the apartment where David Bowie lived in the late 1970s. This was a hard time for Bowie, he was fighting an addiction to cocaine while living in Los Angeles. He moved to Berlin to get away from the drugs and he was also seeking anonymity. Bowie was also going through a divorce from his wife Angela. In his four years living in Berlin, he beat his coke addiction, divorced his wife and recorded three albums. All were pretty good commercial successes and included Low (1977), Heroes (1977) and Lodger (1979). In 1980 he moved to New York to begin another stage in his life. That is one of the things I admire about Bowie is how he continually redefined his music and his stage characters.

His apartment building is marked by a plaque. Dedicated fans left flowers and candles and it has become somewhat of a shrine. When he died in early 2016, many people left flowers and mementos. He shared the apartment with Iggy Pop.

Bowie’s music is always on our Spotify rotation and one of our favorite musicians.

On our way back, we found a store selling American candy and bought some Hubba Bubba gum and the boys ate their first Twinkie.

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Touring Berlin

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Climbing the Berlin Wall in Nordbahnhaf

I got to explore a bit of Berlin before my conference began and enjoyed getting to know this vibrant, global city. Berlin is the largest city in continental Europe and only London is larger in the wider region. The greater metropolitan area has a population of almost six million people.  It is the capital of Germany since it became unified in 1990 and is truly a world-class city, with a high standard of living, incredible fine arts and cultural opportunities and a huge service and IT and business sector.

The city started on the banks for the Spree River and has been an important part of the various German/Prussian kingdoms for over 1000 years. In reading a bit of the city’s history, I learned that the Germanic tribes ousted Slavic tribes in the 7th century AD. 20th-century history is more on display in the city of course, with Berlin serving as the capital of Hitler’s Third Reich. Berlin was destroyed in World War II and not much is left, thankfully, of the Nazis here. Germany does acknowledge publicly the horrors of WWII, much more than in Japan.

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Oliver in Pariser Platz in front of the Brandenburg Gate

My biggest interest in the city was considering the Berlin Wall, which divided the city during the Cold War. It started being built suddenly in 1961 to stop the flow of defectors leaving East Germany and didn’t come down until 1989.

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Checkpoint Charlie

Two of the major icons of Berlin, the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag were not used during this era because they were in the “no-man’s land” near the border between east and west. The path of the former wall is marked on the sidewalks near the area. Today it is a really well done public space along the river and huge parks and plazas surrounding them. The Reichstag was renovated in the 90s and a glass dome was added to the roof and is a huge tourist draw. The tour was fully booked during the time we were in the city.

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A classic Berlin “currywurst” (pork sausage, ketchup, curry powder, Worschester sauce

The highlight for me was seeing the remnants of the wall near the train station of Nordbahnhof station and Checkpoint Charlie. We read many poignant stories of people successfully escaping the Iron Curtain and also, tragically, stories of many lives lost because of the wall. People were so desperate to get out that they tried all sorts of risky methods of leaving including homemade hot air balloon, makeshift zip lines, and hidden compartments in cars. It was so sad to hear how families were separated from each other in the division of the city.  I highly recommend spending time in the Mauer Museum at Checkpoint Charlie.

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The Bundestag on the banks of the Spree River

I have not been in Europe since leaving Belgrade in 2014 and it was so nice to feel the vibes of life in a European city. It is so different from life in Japan. The wide streets lined with thousands of huge trees and the old, but well-kempt, solid apartment blocks, make it a very different cityscape than Japan. I sampled the famous Berlin currywurst on the Pariser Platz. I noticed thousands of tourists from all over the world, not as diverse as New York City, but still, tourism is a big business here and the city receives more tourists than Rome.

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The Reichstag

This was the most time I’ve spent in Germany, with my previous visits to Frankfurt and Munich, were either short business trips or overnight stays during transport. The Germans certainly are big, both men and women, and it was in stark contrast to the diminutive Japanese I am used to. I didn’t notice a large immigrant population here. Our taxi driver was from Somalia and there were Middle Eastern commuters on the trains. I was curious to see the impact of immigration. I read articles that the right was growing in strength in German politics, somewhat based on the fears of large immigration.

 

Cycling Between Osaka and Kyoto

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Owen and Ocean pose for a photo. There are hundreds of small side roads going through farmers’ fields and forests in the hills north of Minoh.

I just love cycling, especially with my children. It is so nice to get them out of the house, off personal digital devices and into the countryside. When you are out cycling, you always see interesting things. We saw a small field of the famous “cosmos” flowers, the autumn “cherry blossoms” of Japan. We also found the British restaurant that is a replica of an old village in England that serves a decent fish’n’chips. Nadia and I went there a couple of years ago but could not find it again. The splashes of orange, yellow and red gave some color to the autumn scenes of rice fields already harvested and gray skies. 

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Riding with Ocean 

I took Owen and Ocean with me on a bike ride this afternoon. We started in the small town of Toyono and did a decent sized loop through the forests and fields straddling the border of Osaka and Kyoto prefectures. Ocean’s biking ability and stamina impressed me and she did not complain during the ride. 

Latest Reading and Watching: Macbeth & Bohemian Rhapsody

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On the long flights to and from Germany, I read Jo Nesbo’s Macbeth. It is the latest book of the Hogarth Project, which publishes Shakespeare’s works as interpreted by best selling and acclaimed novelists of the today. Nesbo is a Norweigan thriller writer and so his Macbeth is set a dreary city in Scotland in probably the 1980s. It is still a story of how ambition for power can corrupt and lead to madness and death. Instead of Macbeth as a king of Inverness, he is going for the chief police commissioner and the office of mayor. There is a lot of murder, action, drugs and eventually insanity. I have not read any of Nesbo’s detective novels.

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The book was definitely a page-turner, although some of the plot points were really far-fetched for me. I would recommend the book as it made me reflect on what the drive for power can do to people. I often gain some vocabulary words or ideas from books and they are below:

  • Tithonos – This is a character from Greek mythology. He was the human lover of the goddess of the dawn, Eos. She asks Zeus to grant him immortality, which he does. However, she forgets to ask for eternal youth as well and poor Tithonos ends up a bag of bones as an old man in bed, but he cannot die.
  • blond plaits – an older term for braids
  • pillion rider – a British term for a seat on the back of a motorcycle
  • quay – pronounced like “key”, a stone or metal platform projecting into a body of water and used for the loading and unloading of ships
  • a ruddy, porcine face – pronounced “poor sign” and means resembling a pig
  • bollard – post on a ship or quay where a boat can be secured; also posts to block motorized transport
  • casino croupier – another word for dealer

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Actor Rami Malek plays Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody

The British rock band Queen has always been pretty high on the Kralovec family playlist. We were excited to see the new movie, Bohemian Rhapsody last night. We went to the IMAX theatre and were not disappointed. A very entertaining movie with the best part being, of course, the music! My takeaway was a simple one, Queen used the idea of audience participation to gain popularity. A simple, but brilliant idea. Audiences need something to do during a concert, more than marveling at the technical skill of the musicians and Queen were masters of getting people to participate in the music. The culmination of this idea and of the movie was Queen’s set during Live Aid back in 1985. I remember the day, a hot July summer afternoon before I went off to college. I rode my bicycle back from cutting lawns with my dad for our 30+ clients that summer and watched the concert on television. I highly recommend going to see the movie in a theatre with great sound!