almost a diary, traveling

A Passage to India

Well, we all know where Columbus ended up when he tried to find one. Luckily, my friend Marietta actually made it to India, exchanging the colourful sights of Carnival in Mainz for those of Jaipur. She’ll be working for an aid project over there and since not many of the people I know “in real life” have ever started a blog, I would like to use this opportunity to mention “A Passage to India“, where she will chronicle her experience in German and/or English.

australia, traveling

Santa in Seoul.

Green SantaAfter a couple of stressful weeks, I’m on my way to Australia, where I’ll be spending the next couple of hopefully far less stressful weeks. On the other hand, a journey that begins and ends with two consecutive ten-hour flights probably doesn’t count as completely stress-free. Right now, I’m spending the time between said ten-hour flights in the transit area at Seoul International airport. While this is most certainly not the best place to get an idea of South Korea, the country’s culture has managed to get into the duty free zone.

While there are, not entirely unexpectedly a couple of days before Christmas, quite a lot of Santa-inspired attempts to withdraw Dollars and Euros from bored transit passengers’ pockets – the Korean idea of “Santa” has not yet been assimilated by soft drink marketing. In South Korea – well, in the tiny part of South Korea I have now come to know – Santa is usually young, quite attractive (which implies the complete lack of Santa’s well known facial hair), wearing a green miniskirt and knee-high white leather boots.

I may be mistaken, but my guess is that over here there will be more 13 year old boys who still believe in Santa than at the North Pole.



Angesichsts der Bilder vom Rosenmontagszug aus Mainz, Köln und Düsseldorf mag man das kaum glauben, aber Karneval wird in Brasilien tatsächlich noch etwas ernsthafter betrieben als hierzulande – allerdings auch etwas extatischer.

Es gibt viele Vorurteile gegenüber dem Karneval in Brasilien – zu viel Sex, zu viele Drogen, zu viel Gewalt. Das meiste davon ist übertrieben, auch wenn es wohl stimmt, daß man zumindest im Norden von Rio nach 22 Uhr nicht an roten Ampeln halten sollte. Ich selbst habe mich weder in Rio noch in einer anderen brasilianischen Stadt unsicher gefühlt, auch wenn das vermutlich damit zusammenhängt, daß ich selten ohne meine ortskundigen Freunde unterwegs war.

Andererseits, zuviel Ortskenntnis könnte auch problematisch sein, wie die folgende Meldung auf Spiegel Online suggeriert. Tragisch, aber vielleicht hilft der zeitliche Zusammenhang mit dem Karneval das Bewußtsein für das Gewaltproblem in Rios Norden zu schärfen. Salgueiro wird dennoch “meine Schule” bleiben – wer einmal dort gefeiert hat, wird verstehen, wieso. Und ich war schon zweimal da…

Rio de Janeiro – “Es könnte eine Hinrichtung gewesen sein”, sagte ein Polizeisprecher. Etwa 20 Schüsse habe ein Unbekannter mit einem Sturmgewehr abgegeben, berichteten brasilianische Medien. Die Polizei wollte das nicht bestätigen. Der 40-jährige Vize-Leiter der Sambaschule Salgueiro, Guaracy Paes Falcao, war sofort tot. Auch seine Frau wurde erschossen. Bereits 2004 war der Bruder von Falcao ermordet worden. Als Hintergrund vermutet die Polizei einen Revierkampf im Glücksspiel-Milieu.

oddly enough, traveling

Mona Lisa’s Lächeln

Mona Lisa (source: schon was besonderes. Auch wenn ich persönlich das Bild weniger beeindruckend finde, als manch anderen Schatz, den es im Louvre zu bewundern gibt, ist das Bild Leonardo da Vincis wohl immer noch die massenwirksamste Attraktion des Museums. Bis zu 65.000 Besucher sollen es sein, tagein, tagaus, die sie sehen wollen. Definitiv zuviele, zumindest nach Auffassung der für ihre Sicherheit verantwortlichen Louvre Aufseher, die nun laut Spiegel Online für eine “Mona Lisa Zulage” streiken.

Vor Leonardo da Vincis Bildnis der jungen Frau drängte sich immer die größte Schar von Besuchern. “Das Gequassel der Menge tut richtig weh”, sagte ein Aufseher heute. … Und immer wieder müsse man das Fotografieren mit Blitzlicht unterbinden.

Man sollte allerdings auch bemerken, daß der Amüsationsfaktor angesichsts der anwesenden Massen dort ebenfalls am größten ist. Als ich Mona Lisa zum ersten Mal gegenüber trat, stand rechts von mir ein amerikanisches Paar, dessen Ehrgeiz, sich mit klassischer europäischer Kunst auseinander zu setzen, seinem Patriotismus keinen Abbruch tat. Und so identifizierte die Frau nach einiger Überlegung konsequent, was dem Bild Leonardos zur tatsächlichen Perfektion fehlt:

“Would have been better, had it been painted in America.”

almost a diary, oddly enough, photoblogging, traveling

The way young housewifes bake.

the way young housewives bakeDespite the title, no porn here, gentle readers. But have a look at the book on the left which I found in the “family library” of the happy couple whose wedding celebrations I attended in Bochum this weekend: a loose translation of the book’s title would be “The way young housewifes bake.” The presence of said book is particularly interesting given that the newly wed wife admitted publicly during the party that her husband is the better cook…

Oh, before I forget: It was the first time I visited Bochum. And although I haven’t seen too much of it, Herbert Grönemeyer seems to be right to claim that is a better place to be than one usually thinks.

almost a diary, photoblogging, traveling

King and Queen of… Sweden.

King and Queen of... Sweden.Finally a holiday experience that will impress my grandmother, who is, among many other things, fluent in all things concerning “European royalty.” Well, I suppose as fluent as reading women’s and celebrity magazines will get you in this respect.

So on my way back to Stockholm airport, I saw a tall guy with an earpiece standing in the middle of a road I had to cross. Then the royal carriage appeared and King and Queen of Sweden passed on their way to the annual opening of the Swedish Parliamentary session. Not sure, but it appears to be something like the “Queen’s Speech” in Britain.

Remembering what GWB’s visit to my home town had been like in February this year – remmeber, people who lived close to the place where he met with Chancellor Schroeder had to pass the entire day behind closed curtains not to risk being shot by US secret service snipers on the next building – I was mostly surprised about the relative lack of royal intrusion in people’s lives.

Where Bush had 3 motorways closed as well as airplanes diverted, King and Queen came, greeted and went to the Parliament with amazing royal understatement – despite the impressive amount of cavalry accompanying them.

Germany, oddly enough, traveling

The Need For Speed.

speed.gifThe German Embassy to the United States publishes a newsletter called TWIG (as in “This Week in Germany”), mainly aimed at the American public, that more often than not features little known gems, news that’s news only in the eyes of true connaisseurs – like you my gentle reades.

Last Friday, TWIG published a story about Germany becoming an important destination for nascent Chinese mass tourism – as Germany is the first Chinese-government-tourism-approved European country. A fact in itself somewhat contradicting the Financial Times’ Berlin correspondent who, according to another government sponsored article, can see Germany becoming

“‘the new France,’ a country where joie de vivre has not yet been unraveled by atrocious prices and the danger of airline strikes.

Claims like this always make me cite Elle Woods, the only person who can counter such statements on the appropriate level – “Whoever said that Orange is the new Pink was seriously disturbed”.

Now, Chinese masses tucking into Sauerkraut may not in itself be a sufficiently interesting subject for a mainly American audience. So no wonder, the article’s hook is something as famous in the US as it apparently is in China: the Geman Autobahn. I once had a vivid discussion with an American friend about the mythology of German motorways, while driving on an American one that is just as famous over here: Highway 66.

In the end, I wasn’t able to convince my friend that German highways are – for the most part – speed regulated. That most German cars aren’t Porsches, and that, while Michael Schuhmacher may be distorting the average, most Germans haven’t driven a car at 200+ km/h.

But then again, so much has been demystified about Germany that it might not be a bad thing to keep some legends alive… (whole story in the extended section).

almost a diary, Europe, traveling

Can’t Buy Me Lo-hove!

So it turns out, my vote was not needed. The Czech Eu referendum is over – 55% turnout, 77,33% said ‘yes’. Done. Welcome in the EU, guys!

Nonetheless, judging from the opinions those (not too many) Czech people held whom I talked to in Praque, a lot of the 3,48 million votes in favour of EU membership seem to have been cast not out of any European enthusiasm but due to the realisation that a small country like the Czech Republic is bound to be severely affected by whatever the EU decides – with or without any influence on the inside. Quite apart from the additional legal and political problems resulting from Czech and German politicians’ handling of the Benes-factor in the run up to the accession treaty, they expressed a lot of fear regarding the possible surrender of velvet-revolution-acquired democracy to some intransparent bureaucratic complex in Brussels.

I found this rather surprising given that most of those who shared this opinion with me are very unlikely to remember their life before the velvet revolution in colour – if they remember the revolution itself, I suppose must be a consequence of tv coverage interruppting regular kids afternoon progamming…

Thus, it is difficult for me to judge if they are really afraid of subjecting themselves to an unaccountable technocracy or if the ‘giving up what we fought for’ argument is not in fact a politically correct way of expressing nationstate-centric reservations against the European project. Clearly, the velvet revolution as well as the peaceful separation from Slovakia in 1994 has allowed young Czechs to recently develop a stronger national identity than was conceivable in the formrt pseudo-internationalist totalitarian regime. When my Prague Castle architectural tour guide, a young female history of arts student, talked about the “Czech” national revival at the end of the 19th century on Sunday morning before briefly mentioning the referendum, the subtext was obvious to everyone present – she was actually alluding to the national revival at the end of the 20th century – and the fear of losing her national and cultural identity, of being assimilated.

She voted in favour, she said – because she is hoping for EU cash for her art projects and because of – resistance-is-futile – assumed inevitability.

She, like most others I talked to this weekend, may be right about the project’s inevitability. But can this be enough for those who believe in the European cause? Hardly. They will have to continue to fight for the new members’ heart. And we all know that John Lennon, a graffiti of whom became a revolutionary rallying point in Prague, was absolutely right about this – “money can’t buy you love”.

So let’s hope that paid-for cohabitation is only the beginning. Again – welcome in the EU, guys!