December 29, 2005

Quick Update

Filed under: Travels — Alex Ravenel @ 7:34 am

A quick update–I’m still alive. I’m in Venice with the family, and have just awoken to the sound of church bells ringing. Better than an alarm clock…

I’ll have plenty to post when I get back. I already have a bit written, but I won’t be able to do the images until I get back, so I’m waiting.

I hope everyone had a merry Christmas…

December 23, 2005

A Summary

Filed under: Travels — Alex Ravenel @ 8:09 am

Christmas is fast approaching, and with it, the visits of my girlfriend and then family. Lindsay got here last Friday, and was here until Thursday when my parents arrived. With the family, we will be travelling to Munich, Venice, and Rome. As such, posting will be very sparse, if it comes at all, until the new year. In the meantime, I’ve compiled this list of travel posts I have made since the site started. Enjoy!

Burg Colmberg, Rothenberg
A Bit More About Berlin

Happy Holidays, everyone…

December 15, 2005

Christmas comes to Tübingen

Filed under: Germany — Alex Ravenel @ 3:09 pm

Christmas has hit hard. Several weeks ago, just about Thanksgiving, decorations started going up. Nothing serious, nothing like the jam-packed shopping malls decked out in lights and holiday colors that typify the season in the US, but still, it was coming. And it kept coming. Slowly, things going up one at a time, until a week or so ago when all of a sudden, it seemed like someone threw the switch and the city was fully decorated.

Die FeurzangenbowleThen, last Friday evening was Die Feuerzangenbowle. Die Feuerzangenbowle is both a drink and a movie, and it is quite the custom to drink the drink and watch the movie this time of the year. The movie is here what It’s A Wonderful Life is to the US. The drink is red wine mixed with spices (most likely cinnamon and clove), orange juice, and strong rum. There is then a cone of sugar placed over the pot, which is doused in 54% rum and lit afire. The sugar caramelizes and drips down into the drink, sweetening it. This Friday night, the whole thing was on a big scale. Tuebingen Christmas MarketThere was a movie screen hung from one of the medieval houses on Platz vor dem Haagtor, a small plaza in the western Altstadt, and a massive projector and speaker system showed the movie for the hundreds of people gathered there. And they had the drink as well. A massive pot, further across than I am tall, and with a sugar cone taller than I am on top, was lit afire, with huge blue flames reaching for the sky. I bought myself a cup of the warm drink and stood there, bundled up, watching the German movie. A most excellent experience, and the movie was pretty good—though I’m amazed they managed to make it at all in 1944, with Germany fighting on two fronts and being bombed day and night. Unfortunately, I forgot my camera, so the photo here was taken by Lawrence Tooth, who has generously allowed me to post it here.

Der WeinachtsmanAlso last weekend was the Tübingen Weinachtsmarkt, the Christmas market here. A much smaller, though I felt, more genuine version than the one in Nürnberg. Unfortunately though, it was only that one weekend, which also meant that the market was unbelievably crowded, and it took one about 20 minutes to move 20 meters. I did, however, have the best Glühwein I have had—and it was also the cheapest I’ve had. Some things are just done better on a smaller scale.

December 12, 2005


Filed under: Random — Alex Ravenel @ 11:44 am

Everyone, go give Pandora a try. Pandora is an online radio station, but a bit different from most. Enter a band or song you like, and it’ll play that artist or song, and then move into other songs/artists that are similar. You can then rate these selections, making your future selections more accurate. It introduces you to tons and tons of music you wouldn’t have otherwise found. Most excellent.

December 11, 2005

Photo Gallery Fixed

Filed under: Random — Alex Ravenel @ 8:31 am

I fixed a couple problems in the photo gallery, namely the category views being all sorts of messed up. Turned out to be some buggy code in the paged archive code. Upgraded to new version, and all is good. Anyways, the photo gallery should be much easier to browse through now. Enjoy.

December 10, 2005


Filed under: Travels, Germany — Alex Ravenel @ 7:33 am

Nuremberg ChristkindlmarktOn Thursday morning, I got up early again and hopped on another train, this time to Nuremberg. I wanted to see the Christkindlmarkt, the Christ Child Market, Nuremberg’s world famous Christmas market. I got there about 12:15, and after checking into the hostel, headed out, stopping on the way to get some Nuremberg bratwurst, a smaller and more heavily spiced version than a “normal” bratwurst. Nuremberg ChristkindlmarktI was very much in the mood for taking a lot of pictures, and so wandered around, camera in hand, seeing what caught my eye. There more than plenty, with the colorful stalls overflowing with their Christmas wares, all sorts of ornaments and carvings, and the various German Christmas foods, Glühwein and Lebkuchen. There were many people out as well, and I had no shortage of subjects to photograph.

Saint Sebalduskirche, NurembergI headed into one of the churches, the Saint Sebalduskirche. Like most of Nuremberg, it was destroyed during the second world war, but rebuilt using as much of the original stone as possible. While not the most impressive church I’ve ever seen, the inside was filled with a veritable treasure trove of interesting nooks, with carvings and paintings, and all sorts of other things decorating the place.

View from the Castle, NurembergFrom there it was on to the castle. Unfortunately much of it was closed for some reason, but the museum with it’s collection of medieval armor and weapons was still open, as was the main tower. I climbed the stairs to the top, and was rewarded with a splendid view over old Nuremberg, enclosed in its rebuilt city walls, encompassing its castle, churches, and cobbled lanes. The view was aided by the castle’s location, perched on a small plateau overlooking the city.

Christkindlmarkt, NurembergThat evening, it was back to the Christkindlmarkt. Christmas markets are totally transformed at night, with the lights and the crowds walking around, a choir singing on the stage, and the trees all lit up. I sipped a glass of glühwein and wandered from stall to stall. Unfortunately it was hard to take pictures thanks to the low light, so I put the camera away and just enjoyed the experience. Afterwards, I headed into a bar and sampled a Rauchbier from Bamberg, a beer where the hops are smoked before being added to the brew, giving the whole beer a rich smokey flavor. On the way back to the hostel, I stopped to listen to a violinist on the street playing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. He was extremely talented, nailing every one of the difficult violin progessions in the pieces. His violin case, open in front of him, was full of money, and not just the normal 10 and 20 cent pieces–I saw several €20 bills in it, and a mass of other bills and larger coins.

Reichsparteigelaende, NurembergThe next morning, I headed to the Reichsparteigelände, the infamous Nazi Party Rally Grounds everyone knows from the images of the massive ranks of troops all hailing Hitler like a God. The grounds were bombed heavily during the war, and so there isn’t much left of them. Much of it has been turned into parks and such now, but enough remains to get a good view of what they were. Make sure to check out the pictures, I have a comparison of what they are now to what they used to be.

As always, there are tons more pictures in the photo gallery. Check them out. You can work your way through them chronologically starting here.

December 7, 2005

A bit more about Berlin

Filed under: Travels, Germany — Alex Ravenel @ 7:14 pm

I feel like I left a lot out of my Berlin post, but rather than keep editing that monstrosity, I’ll just post the random points here.

-I met several cool people. Joseph, an Australian, I met in the bar the first night, and again on the walking tour. Cool guy, with a razor sharp wit. Living in Dublin and working there for a while, in Berlin on vacation. Also, several other Aussies. There are more Aussies in Europe than Americans I think. And Japanese. Tons of Japanese there. And for some reason, they couldn’t work any of the locks in the hostel. Maybe the keys turned the opposite way from what they were used to? It was kind of funny to watch them try, it’d take them about 3 minutes to open any locked door. It’d be interesting to know what was so different…
-Everyone spoke perfect English. It was maddening, I couldn’t get in a word of German. As soon as I opened my mouth (and I like to think my accent is pretty good), they immediately knew I was American and started speaking perfect English to me.
-Unfortunately, I didn’t get to sample any of Berlin’s infamous nightlife. I was tight on funds, and paying €10 cover to get into a place and pay for overpriced drinks isn’t gonna stretch that money too much. Besides, clubs sketch me out, and I had tons of stuff I wanted to do during the days, not spend the days sleeping off a hangover. And not too many clubs are likely to let in a lone guy in jeans with unkempt hair.
-I really can’t recommend Brewer’s Berlin Tours enough. This tour rocked. The guy was funny, witty, knew everything, and the tour was cheap, to boot. I was very impressed. But what should I expect? The guy has been leading foot tours of Berlin since before the wall came down, and worked for the British embassy in Berlin for a long time. Be warned though, it ran on longer than the advertised 7-8 hours–we were out there for 10. Worth every minute though.
-Berlin is surprisingly cheap. Especially for a city. Pleasant surprise…
-I wasn’t impressed with the Berlin subway system, despite the good things I had heard about it. It was slow, there weren’t enough lines, and it was impossible to change lines. It took 20 minutes to get somewhere that you could walk to in 20 minutes. And expensive–single tickets cost €2.10. London and Paris have it whipped, though Rome is lightyears behind.
-There were lots of good international restaurants, especially Thai or Vietnamese restaurants. I ate in this one that was incredible, and cost me €5 for an entree. And they had this wonderful sweet and sour sauce that was unlike anything I’d ever had…
-The Döners in Berlin were different. Different kind of bread, more of a focaccia and less of a pita. And the Sharfsoße was curry based, not chili and garlic based. I’m not sure which I like more…
-Both the American and British embassies were guarded like fortresses, especially the American. They had massive concrete roadblocks blocking every road near it, with guardhouses and police all over, not to mention a serious wall surrounding the embassy proper. And this is right in the middle of Berlin. The British embassy was a little more classily protected, with these cool retracting roadblock posts in the street that would sink into the ground to let a car through if need be. But whoa, you’d think this was Saigon, 1975. They were building a new American embassy right next to the Brandenburg gate, complete with 18 inch thick reinforced concrete walls.

That’s it for now–I’m off to bed so I can catch a train to Nürnberg tomorrow morning to see the Christmas market and such…


Filed under: Travels, Germany — Alex Ravenel @ 6:42 pm

Kaiser Wilhem Gedaechtnis Kirche, BerlinThursday morning, I got up early and caught a high speed ICE train to Berlin. Even on such a fast train (155mph at times), it still takes about 6 hours for the journey. This doesn’t bother me too much though–I’d much rather spend time on a train than in a car or airplane. Trains are much more comfortable, have more to look at out the window, are much less of a hassle, and you can get up and walk around. I really wish we had a good train infrastructure in the US. Anyways, I got to Berlin at about 2PM, caught the subway to my hostel, and checked in.

Brandenburg GateI stayed in The Circus hostel, and was quite impressed. Very comfortable, clean, and relaxed, and often felt more like a hotel than a hostel. Unfortunately, being winter in Germany, it was already getting dark out, but I headed down to the Brandenburg Gate to have a poke around. I got a few good pictures, and then walked down the street to the Reichstag. The Reichstag was very impressive, and much larger than I had imagined, but unfortunately due to the low light (at 4:30 in the afternoon, it was pitch black), I couldn’t get any pictures, so I headed back to the hostel to find somewhere to eat. They pointed me to a very good and very cheap Thai restaurant, and I was very pleased.

Berlin, Monolithic ArchitectureThe next morning, I decided to go on a walking tour of Berlin. I’d heard several good things about Brewer’s Berlin Tours, and that they were an excellent way to get some insight into the tremendous history of Berlin that you can’t find in a guidebook. They were right. The tour was led in our case by the owner of the company, Terry Brewer, a grizzled old British guy who has lived in Berlin since before the wall came down. We all met up in the freezing cold outside, myself dressed in two pairs of pants, three shirts, my wool overcoat, a hat, and gloves, and proceeded to walk around Berlin for 10 hours. Terry was an encyclopedia of knowledge, pointing out tidbits of information about seemingly random buildings as we walked by. Berlin, EastHe seemed to know everything, and buildings that you normally wouldn’t have take a second look at turned out to have some very important history behind them. The tour was also a good way to get a feel for the city, and see how it was layed out. Most of the standard sights, like the cathedral, Brandenburg Gate, and the museums, were all in the East–in fact, I think I was only in the West a couple of times during my whole visit. Despite this, most of the old Soviet buildings have either been torn down and rebuilt or totally overhauled thanks to the appalling condition the Soviets had left them in, War Damageand you oftentimes wouldn’t even know that you were in the old East Berlin. Even 16 years after the wall came down though, the city is still shrouded in a blanket of construction. Everywhere you turn, buildings are covered in scaffolding, draped in construction covering, and watched over by several towering cranes. The joke used to go that you couldn’t get a crane in Europe because they were all in Berlin. Imagine a city that was isolated, neglected, and abused for 50 years, only to suddenly spring into the daylight, and that is Berlin. Despite this, they conserve some of the past, and one can see a few buildings that still show bullet and shrapnel damage from the war–such damage is even visible on the Brandenburg Gate.

NefertitiAnyways, the next day, I went back to the museums to go inside and spend a bit of time in them. First up was the Egyptian museum. Currently housed in the Altes Museum because it’s normal home is under the shroud of reconstruction, it was an interesting display, but I must say I was somewhat underwhelmed. I think the problem was that the viewing space was possibly smaller than the normal location, and so not as much was on display; regardless, it felt that just as I was starting to get into it, it ended. Not to be phased, I headed down the street into the Pergamon Museum. The Pergamon is a museum in the vein of the British Museum in London. And given that the British Museum is by far the best I have ever seen, I was quite pleased with the Pergamon. While certainly not as large as the British Museum, it was nonetheless impressive. Ishtar Gate, DetailIn it are the Ishtar and Miletus Gates, the latter under reconstruction to repair damage sustained in WW2. Also of interest, the Berlin Kore, an ancient Greek sculpture I had to learn about in my Greek Archaeology class and immediately recognized upon seeing, pointing out the details to myself before even the museum recording playing in my ears could say it. An excellent experience, and similar to what I experienced in the British Museum. After this, I went over to the Berlin Cathedral, and after listening to a bit of a choir concert, walked up to the top of the dome and admired the view of Berlin. By this time, it was getting dark, so after quickly walking through one of the Christmas markets, I headed back to the hostel to find some dinner.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, DetailThe next day, my last final day, was considerably more quiet. I got up early and headed over to the Reichstag with the intention of climbing to the top of the glass dome, but arrived to find a massive line out the front and stretching into the field in front of the building. Everything was like that that day–the tour bus crowds were out in force. You could see them, busses pulling up to sidewalks in front of all the sights, and the tourists disembarking like locusts to swarm all over things, rudely talking loudly, shoving for better camera angles, and generally just being obnoxious. I saw people loudly walking into the War Monument (wearing hats as well), laughing and playing tag in the Monument to the Murdered Jews of Europe, and generally doing disrespectful shit. So I headed off to an internet cafe and passed the rest of the day drinking coffee and surfing the internet. A quiet end, but better than dealing with the tourist hordes.

The next day, up early and then back home. Not much to write about there.

Door to the BunkerI must say, the best (though somewhat morbid) part of the trip however, was finding the location of Hitler’s bunker, the place where he spent his last days before killing himself and being burned. There’s an eery sense about the place, made all the more so because there is nothing marking the spot and no tour book guiding you there–the German government refuses, perhaps rightly so, to put any sort of monument or marker there for fear of it becoming a rallying point for Neo-Nazis. Terry showed us the spot, which I later managed to back up with a bit of Googling. Apartment--HitlerToday, an apartment building and parking lot stands on the spot. Part of the bunker was torn up to build the apartments, but a significant part of it still remains, and you can see the inconspicuous locked steel doors leading down into it. There is a children’s playground right about on the spot that Hitler is supposed to have been burned, making it even more creepy. All the people living there know what they are living over–seems rather creepy to me. I’m not sure I’d like my children playing on the ground where that man was burned. But nonetheless, my curiosity for history made the place supremely interesting to me. It’s not too often you can stand on the ground where the most infamous figure of the last century met his end, with not a soul around to make a noise.

Anyways, make sure to check out the photo gallery. There are tons of photos up from the trip beyond was is shown here.

December 5, 2005

Back from Berlin

Filed under: Travels, Germany — Alex Ravenel @ 5:09 pm

I’m back from Berlin. A very good time, and a very interesting city. I’ll have a long post coming when I get a bit more time, tomorrow most likely, but in the meantime, pictures are up.

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