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!

 

Owen Makes it to Homeroom On Time

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One of the nice aspects of working at a school that your children attend is the opportunity to see them occasionally throughout the day. I caught Owen on video this week, hurrying to make it to homeroom on time in the morning. He is in full growth mode and struggles with his sleep patterns, staying up late and fighting to get out of bed in the mornings.

Cycling with Oliver

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Attempting a selfie as we ride through Japan countryside

I’ve been trying to get out into nature every Sunday to recharge my batteries. Two weekends ago, I rode with Oliver on a loop outside of the town of Kameoka in the Kyoto prefecture. We drove 30 minutes to the town of Toyono and did a 25-kilometer loop along forested rolling hills and rice paddies. An absolutely heavenly afternoon for me, and despite his complaints through much of the ride, in the end, Oliver enjoyed it too!

There are so many great cycling routes in Japan. Drivers are very safe and much of the countryside is depopulating rapidly which makes for really good cycling. I love riding and hope to do as much as I can over the next 8 months I am here.

Oliver and I found a really nice spot for lunch. In between rice fields, a small shinto shrine was nestled between hills. The large sugi trees which are a characteristic of any temple or shrine provided shade and a quiet place to eat and talk.

There were some decent slopes and Oliver complained going up them, but towards the end of the loop back to our car, we had a very long descent through the forest that he loved. We saw many downed trees from the recent typhoon that came through here last month. Oliver doesn’t like cycling too much, but he was nice to humor me and come along.

A perfect afternoon that I wish could have lasted forever!

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Halloween 2018

Halloween is widely celebrated in Japan. One sees all sorts of Halloween-related products for sale and people dress up. The modern customs of trick-or-treating and costumes are one of the gifts America has given to the world. Everyone enjoys dressing up, focusing on being scared and walking around collecting candy.

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Oliver was a big hit in the neighborhood

Our neighborhood, Onohara, annually organizes a Halloween festival. There are booths run by high school students at the school and families volunteer to open their homes to trick-or-treating, which is not regularly practiced here. Japanese culture is super organized and so families had to sign up their children in August. Participants are given tickets and a map to where the homes are located. It costs money to join and the neighborhood association gives candy to the homes. We supplemented our candy supply with American candy from Costco. We decorated the steps and entryway to our house and played Halloween-themed music. Many of the neighborhood children did not know trick-or-treating etiquette and had limited English so we did our best to explain to them how it works. The international school students, especially the elementary students loved seeing “Ms. Nadia” passing out candy. So many of the children were very cute and it was pleasurable to see their excitement.

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Elina, Ocean, Alona and Mako pose as a smack of jellyfish (the technical term for a group of jellyfish)

Oliver dressed up as a dinosaur. We bought a blow-up costume that was hilarious and a hit with everyone. We didn’t manage to save any of the photos, however, due to storage issues on our phones. I hope to get one.

Ocean and three of her friends used umbrellas, lights and colored streamers to dress as jellyfish, which is very appropriate for seafood-loving Japan. They were massively popular with other trick-or-treaters and posed for many photos.

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Ocean is trying to get out of our front gate

We finished the night with a dinner party at a friend’s house. The weather was perfect and it was a delightful evening.

The Kralovec Family is Moving

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I would like to let all of our family and friends know that we will be leaving Japan in July 2019 for Uzbekistan. I will be taking over as director of the Tashkent International School. We are sad to be leaving Osaka but excited for our next adventure. Many of you may have never heard of Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Nadia and I traveled there last month and found it similar to Sofia, Bulgaria, a mix between Eastern Europe and Central Asia. It is an excellent IB World School and the city is safe and seems to be a pleasant and fascinating place to live. Below are some articles about the country and a photo gallery from our visit.

“Uzbekistan: The most fascinating country you’ve never been to” The Telegraph

“8 Reasons to Go to Uzbekistan” The Independent

Rough Guide to Uzbekistan