And now: Sushi!

As I was driving to a faculty meeting this afternoon (and yes, I can think of better things to do on a sunny afternoon) I saw what the new store the just opened near the university is: a sushi place!

This part of town has about 17% unemployment, there were lots of empty and rotting buildings and not much infrastructure. When the first 1000 students came, an espresso bar opened. When the next 5000 came, there was suddenly another espresso bar, a hot dog stand, and now sushi. And a farmer's market once a week.

What a difference just one large people magnet makes!


As if I were in a novel

We were at a 65th birthday last night. It was a wonderful celebration held in a Jugendstil villa right in the middle of town. There were many famous and (self-)important guests invited, and we began the party in the garden. Many men were in white linens, the women in colorful, summer dresses. We sipped champagne until the first speeches were held.

Our places were arranged with care, couples were split up and the tables had young and old, different careers together, but careful to have at least two people speaking the same language at the same table. The tables were named after people that the birthday boy had written papers about at some time during his career. I sat at the Olaus Rudbeck table in a high-ceilinged room with beautiful stucco and a bay window. We ate excellent food and drank very good wine and engaged in witty, intellectual conversation.

I suddenly had the feeling of being a character in a Thomas Mann novel. And of course, I was expecting that we would be hearing lots of gossip or have some nicely scandalous happenings. Not much of that - the children (both with degrees, one a doctorate) gave very funny speeches, as well as the older brother and a best pal.

Then a former national politician (who had given his most recent book as a present, how gauche) stood up to give an unscheduled speech. He of course referred to his own position and tried to be extremely witty, I found him extremely tiresome.

But that was pretty much it for scandals, unless you count the young woman accompanying the elder brother. She was from the US, working on her doctorate, and in general quite well behaved. I was in line behind her when she was pouring coffee and spilled some on the saucer. She exclaimed "Oh dear!" and grabbed a white damask napkin to soak up the liquid. Damask! Coffee stains won't come out of that! A few minutes later we were standing near the bowl of strawberries, damp with water. She ate a few, and then *wiped her hands* on the damask table cloth. How uncouth!

The food was wonderful, and the conversation interesting - really a very nice evening. But I'm afraid that other than in this blog, there will not be a novel recording the evening. How times have changed...


That will be enough soccer for now


I've been quite amused by all the soccer fanatics around, most particularly by my nearest and dearest.

But flying back from England to Germany on June 23, the day both played their games and proceeded to the next round, I decided I'd rather had enough.

I planned well for my English getaway. I needed to be at the airport for my 5.30 pm flight, and England started playing at 3 pm (local time). So I had the registration desk order a taxi for me for 4.10 pm (only 15 minutes to the provincial airport). The taxi came on time, we heard the game on the radio, the driver explained his thoughts on soccer, soccer schedules, soccer hooligans, and lots of other stuff in the Geordie dialect. Or rather, I assumed he was talking about soccer, I just nodded occasionally.

The streets were deserted. There were no car, and this during what is normally rush hour. The parking lot was almost deserted. I entered the airport, remembering my last run-in with the check-in folks there two years ago.

The machines are still there, but I can approach a counter (okay, not KLM, but Lufthansa this time). There is one person before me in line. A polite young man takes my bag, attaches a HOT sticker to it, explains to me that this means it will get quick attention for the transfer to the Berlin flight, and gets my seat assignment.

The hall is deserted, so I head for the gate. There is no one in line. A boarding pass checker takes my boarding pass and passport, but his attention is elsewhere. I do the undress dance, both women operating it are busy looking elsewhere. I get my stuff and head on past the security guards, intently watching the game. England is still in the lead 1-0, but there are 10 minutes left to play.

Everyone is watching one of the three screens. The woman pretending to work filling juice bottles is also watching the screen. Notice (in the circle) the door guards. Yup. Could have smuggled a bomb in there, or (gasp!) a bottle of water. No one would have noticed. They were watching the game.

As the final whistle sounded, people clapped, sighed a sigh of relief, and got on with their lives.

We flew to Düsseldorf, where the continuing plane was late. I wanted to have some food in a little bistro, but the servers were so busy watching the Germany game that no one wanted to take my order. Oh well, I had a packet of cookies left over from the conference. Our plane was late taking off, and the pilot let us know the halftime score.

Just after landing the stewardess got on the PA system: "Please remain in your seats with your seat belts fastened until the plane has reached its final parking destination and Germany just got a goal YIPPIE!!"

I retrieved my luggage and decided to watch the last few minutes at Tegel. It was the same scene - everyone intent on the screen. When the whistle sounded I headed for the bus and started to doze.

We had almost reached Bahnhof Zoo when I heard the noise. Those pesky trumpets! And horns honking, and cars all over the place and PEOPLE, people streaming out of the station heading for the Ku'damm. They smacked on the windows, I took a step back, fearful that the window would break. The bus inched forward, finally deciding to dump us. I got out, smiled at the mess, took a few pictures, and headed for the U-Bahn.

Or rather, tried. There was a mass of humanity sweeping up the steps I wanted to go down. I tried to go down, but the waves would not part. I saw the tail end of a train I just could not reach - too many people between me and the train. Disgusted, I resigned myself to wait for the next one. At least they show the minutes.

10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-3-3-3-3-3-2-1-1-1-1-1-1-1- Please be patient.

The platform was packed by now, and there was no train coming. I decided to invest in a taxi, and headed back to the surface. Except there were no taxis. None. I tried waiting, but there was none to be had. So I headed up to the elevated train. That would be a horrible detour, but it should get me home.

I pushed up some stairs that had masses of humanity pouring down them. My clue should have been that trains in both directions were stopped. I made my way into one, and it just sat there. And sat.

I got off again and headed out. Still no taxis. So I started to walk, with my little suitcase trolly behind me, through the crowds. They were exploding firecrackers under the bridge. The sidewalks were so full, I had to walk on the streets. People were smacking the busses caught in traffic. There were broken bottles everywhere, and police standing by, waiting for something. They had the Ku'damm blocked off.

Resigned drivers had turned off their motors and were out leaning on their cars. There was singing, dancing, fireworks, fights, stupid chants - I just wanted Out Of There Right Now. Finally, the other side of the Lietzenburger (that had cars parading up and down with flags and people hanging out the windows and roofs), I flagged down a taxi. In a few short, quiet minutes I was home.

If this is the reaction to making it to the eighth final, I don't want to be near (German) "civilization" if they go all the way. I like the comment a friend has on his Facebook page. The niveau of these fans is so low, there is a basement flat free above them.


Great pictures

I finished my talk for tomorrow and had decided to use black and white pictures as part of the artistic style of the talk. I was having trouble finding good Creative Commons stuff over at Flickr when I remembered: The German Wikipedia has thousands of oldish pictures from the Federal Archives.

I wandered over to Wikimedia Commons and searched for "Geld" with the search term "prefix:File:Bundesarchiv". Bingo! Glorious fotos! I looked for "Professor", for "Hörsaal", for "Priest" - and found great pictures to use. My presentation looks great, thanks Wikipedia!

Oh, and yes, I'm talking about Ethics and Scientific Misconduct in the Digital Age.


Soccer on Route 66

We went to Route 66 for dinner this evening to watch the England:USA soccer match. It is a large diner with deep vinyl seats, 50s stuff all over, and American food. They also had the TV screens set up so you could talk with everyone in your booth and still watch the game. Extra points for that!

They only had a small menu, expecting a crowd. But we had our choice of seats, there were plenty left indoors and out. So it shouldn't have been that bad, but the first round of beer was downed and there was no food in sight, not even the nachos as appetizers. The waiter apologized, and the nachos came with the food. The chicken wings were great, the cheeseburger and fries were fine, the coleslaw was wrong, they didn't have any dessert on the special menu, and the iced tea was sweetened.

Is this typical American food, a friend asked. Um, well, yes, sort of. Typical for a diner, except the "Free refill" coffee is missing. When it came bill time, the battery on the EC card reader was dead, so we had to scrape together cash and hit the ATM on the way home.

The regular menu seems nicer, and the placing of the screens is great, so this will make a proper venue for the Super Bowl. The crowd was cheering for England, strangely enough, and agonized over the American goal.

It was funny, them playing two American patriotic songs, "My Country 'Tis of Thee" and the "Star-Spangled Banner". I can still sing both of them. And now, I used to live off of Route 66, but not the famous one, Pennsylvania Route 66, from Youngwood up to Kittaning. Youngwood - man, I lived there for 3 years. Just had a look on Google Maps - the playground is gone, now part of a monster area for the Methodist church. The house we lived in is still standing. Luckily, I can't see in the windows....

Memories. Hey, it was a nice evening, and the US got a goal, irritating the English no end. Way to go!


Wow! This is why we teach

I had to attend two rather senseless meetings in the scorching heat (and missed the first game of the World Cup) this afternoon. I came home and called up the emails, which usually consist of people demanding that I see to this or that or give my undivided attention to something else, or that I write a report on something I don't have numbers for by yesterday.

This was in the box:
I just wanted to thank the two of you [we team taught a course] for your lecture and exercise sessions last semester. Thanks to you I have found an area that interests me and that I have been intensively working in since then. None of the courses I have had up until now at university have interested me or given me something I can identify with.
This is why we teach. We try and light fires instead of just filling up vessels. And when one student realizes that we were somehow involved in this process, and takes the time to write - Wow! Way to start the weekend!

Let the Games begin!

We watched the opening ceremony for the soccer world cup in South Africa this evening. The plan was: friend comes over, beer gets opened, we enjoy the ceremony on TV.

Turned out that ZDF, who had the rights to this, was not broadcasting it on TV. Seems the general German public was assumed to be more interested in some drippy, Rosamunde-Pilcher-like story.

Luckily we had already tried out the PC-to-flat screen connection previously. The cables were still around, so we hooked up the PC to the flat screen, and projected the Internet stream. The audio quality was okay, but the pictures kind of sucked. And apparently, many others had the same idea, there was a lot of jerkiness in the picture.

There were some really great artists I had never heard before, and some famous ones like Black-Eyed Peas, Alicia Keys or Shakira (who as the final number was spectacular). I am completely enamored of the Canadian-Somalian K'naan and his "Waving Flag" number that they have been playing on the radio on account of it being the song of the official sponsor. Lucikly the sponsor keeps themselves in the background during the video, which focuses on the pure joy of the games and the coming together of so many nations to celebrate soccer.

I even considered purchasing it from iTunes for my iPod. Except iTunes can't find it. After some serious googling to find out what the CD from K'naan is called I did find it, but I decided not to purchase from iTunes. I'll have Amazon drop the entire CD in my box and rip it myself. I mean, hello iTunes, if songs are being played on some sort of international stage you need to be able to find the songs, pronto. Oh, right. It wasn't in the US. Well....

The speech of Desmond Tutu was just fantastic. He came on stage, smiling over his entire body. He lifted his hands in a blessing and said: I am going to give you some time to rest. And he did. For some minutes he just stood there, smiling. Then he welcomed the guests home to Africa, the cradle of civilization, and had the crowd send a tribute to the man responsible for bringing the games to South Africa, Nelson Mandela.

Nelson Mandela, who is 92, has been out of prison for 20 years. I remember boycotting South African wines over apartheid. I remember a "Free Nelson Mandela" concert I attended in Iceland. Letters written for Amnesty. All of these political acts that didn't ever seem to really do anything, and then suddenly, they did work, and he was free. Free to become president, free to try and move the country forward.

The crowd cheered and cheered - I'm sure Madiba, as he is called, heard them!

ZDF, of course, translated over the English speech into German in a, shall we say, liberal translation? But the bits he said in Xhosa were not translated at all. Dudes, English we understand, Xhosa we don't.

Ah well, it was a really grand ceremony, I'm so happy for South Africa, actually pulling this off. We look forward to the games!


A Walk in the Sunshine

Theoretically, Fridays are my days for preparing lectures, grading, cleaning my desk and such. Practically, I have meetings or someone convinced me to give a talk or whatever. Same deal today - we are getting ready for the Berlin "Long Night of Science" in which our school is participating for the first time after a long abstinence. But I don't have to be there on the dot of anything, just get it done sometime today.

So my plan was to drop by two of my doctors in a three-hour time span and then head off to work. I know, sounds ridiculous, but being a private patient in Germany currently has its advantages. As my eye/ear/nose/throat doctor says, "Look. 10 minutes with you pays me enough that I can spend an extra hour with patients whose insurance only pays a flat fee per quarter. Open up."

I slept in a bit, discussed the renovations WiseMan is planning, and then headed off in the sunshine. Yes, sunshine. I was expecting a volcanic ash summer, i.e. no summer. In celebration I wore my Iceland T-Shirt today and headed out.

6 seconds later I regretted not taking a coat - it was darn cool in the shade. But it is supposed to get very warm today, so I soldiered on. I made it through both doctor's officed in under an hour, so I dropped in the local second hand store. I love second-hand stuff, but the beautiful purple jacket was not my size, so I left without purchasing anything.

A few stores down a member of our handball club who had trained WiseKid when he was little was sunning himself - with a cast around his knee. Handball is a rough sport. The hospital was bad he said, but hey, on sick leave during the soccer world cup: he can take it. It was wonderful having the time to stop for a chat!

I dropped into another store I had been meaning to visit for a while, I'm looking for something strange that I have to describe as I don't know the term. The male clerk was playing condescending with me, and getting a sarcastic edge to his voice - "Just bring it here so I can look at it and see what you need." No, it's in Sweden, I'm not lugging it here. I left abruptly, stating that he did not need to get aggressive, and sought the sunshine.

Just across the road was the mother of a girl from WiseKid's kindergarten class, we had a very nice chat, and I set off for the tram. And I'm even at work 45 minutes before I was planning to be here.

Maybe I should just plan on starting work at 12 every day. I feel rested and relaxed ;)