Sunday, November 29, 2009


I'm at the Innside Hotel in Berlin, which I chose mainly for narrative closure with the Innside in Bremen. Indeed, my first blog entries mentioned that decidedly hip hotel, which had fresh OJ at the breakfast bar. The one in Berlin did - on only one day. But this is OK, since the table wares were entertainingly slanted, as if about to tip over:

Too much movement for breakfast. Good thing I wasn't hung over.

You can learn a lot about different cultures by reading their complaints in hotel reviews. Germans seem most likely to complain about road noise. The Dutch are most likely to complain when a restaurant does not serve fresh squeezed orange juice with their morning buffet, which seems quite reasonable to me. It's really good! British reviews are good only for a laugh. Their reviews are heavily influenced by in-room tea kettles. If you see a review that complains about no kettle in the room, it was written by an English tourist. My favorite was a review that called a hotel "barbaric" for its kettlelessness. That's quite a stringent threshold for barbarism. The review went on to state, "Good thing we brought our travel kettles!" I seem to have forgotten mine.

But I am an increasingly popular one, thanks to the Big O. Barry's election restored the English to their apparently well-earned role as most hated tourists in Europe. Every old limey I have met is extremely polite, but the young ones are by far most likely to be drunk and disorderly, and ruin it for everyone. The last presidential election did not make Amercians into polity, savvy polyglots, but it did represent a vague recognition of how bad Bush was, and you can't get around that black thang. Indeed, the Brits would have to elect an even more exotic president to top us.

Their best opportunity is advertised on every public transportation nexus I have seen in Berlin: The Blue Man Group is here. This fits, somehow. Berlin loves anything new, artsy, avant-garde, and weird. I never saw this Group, but they must be doing something right, since they graduated beyond Vegas and now play in far more discerning cities like Orlando. I have to respect them for overcoming all the obstacles they did. Except, I'm starting to suspect they aren't really an oppressed minority at all. I won't vote for them, but they might fool the British. Or especially the French. For that matter, there might be a trend emerging with other false minorities. Be on the lookout for mauve mountebanks and chartreuse charlatans.

Blue Man Group ad and graffiti by Checkpoint Charlie.

I did not get to see them, or any other blue men, since I spent most of my time in Berlin working. I got to meet with 3 BCI groups, and it did feel like consummating a tourist destination. I long wanted to see the famous Berlin BCI group, and try the legendary dry electrode system. After Graz, Tübingen, Berlin, and Lausanne, the only longstanding group left is in Rome. Fortunately, new BCI groups are popping up so often that, by the time I get to see FSL in Rome, there will be 30 more on my list.

I spent an afternoon discussing the Big Issues in BCI research with Thorsten Zander and his colleague Marty. Thorsten is one of only three people in the BCI research community who has the endurance, patience, courtesy, and masochism to talk about BCIs with me indefinitely. (The other two are Gerwin Schalk and Febo Cincotti.) We then walked along the Wall, which had a busy street where the Death Zone used to be. He pointed out where guards with machine gun towers used to be, where they rewarded the hurried masses, yearning to breathe free, with free lead. The guard towers weren't visible any more, but I wonder if they were just relocated to well hidden pillboxes, because The Wall was the only wall I saw in Berlin (or practically Europe) without graffiti. Why not, I asked? Well, people respect The Wall, he said. Naw, I said. I bet them gunners are hiding somewhere. Graffiti sprayers will attack everywhere from the beautiful art under some LA overpasses to the Berlin Blue Man Group posters. And maybe that explains the Blue Men themselves! They really are victims!

I indulged in one other conventional tourist stop. Checkpoint Charlie has Germans dressed up as American soldiers holding American flags. This worried me, because I thought we had more than enough genuine American grunts in Germany to fill that role. The German guards were quite polite, which worried me even more. Sneaky Germans pretending to be Americans tried to make a lot of trouble, with some success. If they start playing with signs to Malmedy or popping up on beaches in Florida with the plans of our light manufacturing plants, don't say I didn't warn you.

Checkpoint Charlie

Ominous Checkpoint Charlie guard. Like any picture, you can click on it to get the full image. He really does scare me.

Trabi for rent near Checkpoint Charlie. Cute, but not that authentic, since it probably runs fine.

You aren't really leaving anything.

Yes, Checkpoint Charlie still had its famous sign warning that you are now leaving the American sector. The sign is meant as a relic, but it's even untruer than that, because you can never really leave the American sector - or more accurately, the sector of mass homogeneity that originated in America. Within 2 blocks of the Checkpoint, you're assaulted with McDonalds, Subway, and Dunkin Donuts. Even The Wall is painted with enthusiastic, funky, generally pretty art. East Berlin is as perky and bright as the rest of increasingly homogenous Europe. I was looking forward to the depressing, soul-snuffing, vodka-sledgehammer-inspiring Communist Bloc gray I heard so much about. Why did I leave Graz, or for that matter, San Diego? At least we have one thing that marketing and franchising still can't fake: beaches.

Here is a relevant quote fron an editorial:
"It’s funny how we crave the authentic, the unspoiled, the genuine — the un-globalized and un-homogenized and un-gentrified — only to destroy them. And then, as if in remorse, attempt to create unthreatening Disney versions of the authentic, the unspoiled and the genuine. It’s funny how the rich, tired of grilled tuna or Chilean sea bass, weary of New York generic (never simmered, always seared), want to eat like the poor, while the poor just want to be rich."
-- Roger Cohen, New York Times, 20 Nov 2009

Rather that end this long post on a whimisical and decidedly antiflaneurian note, here is instead a picture from Berlin Schönefeld airport.

You gotta click on this to see the Wurst wit. Nobody said the Germans don't have a sense of humor. Well, at least, I haven't said that. Not recently, anyway.

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