17 March 2012

Less work, more sight-seeing

Since the amount of work on my plate has lessened recently, I decided to spend some time this week getting out of and seeing some more of Berlin.  Winter is not exactly the most convenient time of year to sight-see, so with spring upon us, I ventured to see the Holocaust memorial and the Tiergarten (on two different days).

I still don't know what to make of the Holocaust memorial in Berlin.  Located a stone's (really good) throw from the Brandenburger Tor, and right next to the American Embassy, the Denkmal für ermordeten Juden Europas (Memorial for the murdered Jews of Europe) is a basically a series of concrete steles (or slabs) that, towards the streets, are fairly short, but the further in towards the middle you get, the taller the slabs get so that you are enveloped by them.  Obviously these unidentical monuments are symbolic, but it's hard for me to decide if the monument is effective.  I saw teenagers flirting and running around and children playing hide and seek within, and wondered if they even knew what the point was.  For me, this is the biggest problem with the monument.  If you just go there without knowing about the Holocaust, the monument can just seem like a maze, or a game.

kids jumping from one slab to another
My other sight seeing trip was mainly to take advantage of the amazing weather we've been having here in Berlin over the last couple of days.  I went down to the Tiergarten (like Berlin's Central Park).  It's called the Tiergarten (Animal Garden) because it was once the hunting grounds for the royalty and such.  It's the oldest (and biggest) in Berlin, and was redesigned in the 1830s.  After being decimated in WWII, the park was restored after.  In the middle is the Siegesäule, or the Victory tower commemorating some victory against France in the 1870s.

It's definitely a peaceful place to escape the city, and on a day when the sun was shining and the temnperature about 18 degrees celsius, it was a very pleasant way to spend an afternoon.

Brandenburger Tor
Monument for Haydn Mozart and Beethoven

Beethoven, with gouges from small arms fire in WWII

The Siegesäule

Finally, this week was not entirely without klezmer.  My friends' band from Israel, Ramzailech, had a 3 concert tour in Germany beginning in Berlin on Thursday.  They play what they call "hardcore klezmer" - a mix of klezmer and hardcore heavy metal music.  I sat in with them for their last encore song, and then went to the Klezmer Stammtisch where I klezmered away until about 1:30AM!

6 March 2012

Much ado about nothing

So, this post is mainly dedicated to my mother who, wonders about what's going on with me if she doesn't hear anything (or see anything in the blog).  Hi mom!

Basically this blog post is about nothing.  Nothing really interesting is going on (since getting back from Prague).  I've moved apartments to a sublet that's much cheaper, bigger, and just a few minutes away from where I was before.  Despite this 4-block change in geography, it's changed my transit paradigm a little bit.  It's a little further away from the nearest night bus, and it's not as close to the S-bahn station at Ostbahnhof (but there is a bus that goes there).  But, thanks to the great transit network in Berlin, it's still easier than ever to get around. 

Incidentally, I was asked to show my ticket again yesterday, which makes twice in over 3 months.  Had I not had a ticket and paid the fine, I probably would have spent less money overall (although you have to show a ticket to the driver to get on the bus).

Aside from that, I've been working.  Revision upon revision of the dissertation keep me busy, along with the writing of a couple of conference papers that will be presented this month.  The constant rewriting is not only tedious, it's EXTREMELY tedious.  The fact that the end is somewhat in sight is the only thing that keeps me going. 

KlezFactor is on hiatus until the bass player and drummer get back from Argentina, and we're closer to confirming a couple of concerts in the summer, although I'd like to be able to say that we've got more than a couple!

So that's about it.  Writing, rewriting, but I'm definitely trying to enjoy the improving weather!  It's been less grey and cloudy lately, so I've been able to get out and run more!

1 March 2012

Weekend in Prague

So I figured I'd write a bit about my weekend in Prague for those of you who want to read about that!

Berlin can be a grey, depressing town, particularly in the winter.  So it was nice to get out of the city for a few days and head to the capital of the Czech Republic, Prague.  While initially a shock to the system, where everything is written in a language I don't understand, I quickly remembered enough about the city to find my bearings and take public transit to my friend Ondrej's house.

You see, dear readers, I've been to Prague before.  Ondrej and I met in 2008 at a conference centered around the theme of Improvisation in Montreal.  In addition to being a Phd student in Philosophy in Prague, he's also a musician.  We exchanged music and both dug what the other was doing.  So when, in 2009, I was in Europe for another conference,* I visited Ondrej and his partner Halke, and their son in Prague for a few days.  During this time, I recorded some tracks on clarinet for Ondrej's band's last album.**

I've been wanting to get back to Prague to visit and perhaps collaborate on some more music with Ondrej.  He's now working on a solo album and wanted to lay down some hot clarinet action, and we spent an evening in the studio on this trip as well.

While the area that Ondrej and his family (with another child now) live in a very "Eastern-European" area of the city -- lots of grey apartment blocks, crappy stores, bad roads, etc. -- the old town is stunning, and makes Berlin look like a bleak grey shithole (no offense).

With some nice weather, Ondrej used my visit as an excuse to get out with the kids and see some of the areas in the city that they wouldn't normally.  We went to the west side of the Charles River, walked around the old castle, seeing the cathedral, and then climbed the hill to the observation point, where you can overlook the city.  There, I split off from my friends, needing to get away from the relentless, unbridled energy of the little ones (one's 6, the other's 2 1/2), and spent a couple of hours walking around, traversing the famous Charles Bridge, and just seeing the sights.

That evening was our studio evening, with Vladya the engineer.  I'm not sure how to describe Vladya.  He's the type of guy who just loves music.  He works for Radio Free Europe during the day and records music for people in his off hours.  He's also very enthusiastic about everything!  He took us to a bar, bought a round of beers***  He also got us these sandwiches which had cheese, pickles and chili peppers.  Sounds gross, but they were amazing.... and spicy.  Ondrej had to excuse himself to stop crying from the chili heat!  We also met this weird Jordanian guy who offered to share his weed with us.

The next day was a lazy Sunday.  I ended up staying at Ondrej's place and getting a lot of work done.  That night, Ondrej and I went on a little pub crawl of cool little music venues, getting to watch part of a Miles Davis concert video from the 80's (Look ma!  That keyboard player has a poodle on his head!), part of a documentary on building and racing a solar car, and avoiding a blues jam that wanted to charge us to get in.  However, we drank a lot of beer and still made it back before the metro stopped running.

Monday was also a "catch up on work."  But it was also a walk around and see how pretty the city is day.  Pictures:

The Cathedral at the Prague Castle

Detail on the Cathedral

City from the castle hill

Tourists (on the Charles Bridge)

Apparently, Jesus was a Jew.  Statue on Charles Bridge

Caption Contest!  My entry:  "Oh no!  It's Godzilla!"

The classic cathedral framed by another statue in the square.


* Ok, the conference was in London, but i took a few weeks after to do some Euro-tripping.

** They're called eggnoise, and their last album is called Yolk.  Look them up.  They're pretty awesome.

*** Beer is even cheaper in Prague than in Berlin.  A mug of beer at the local bar in Ondrej's neighbourhood cost less than 1 Euro each.