Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Seminar I: Stuttgart (4)

One of the places we visited while in Stuttgart is an association-like company that promotes investment and innovation in local industry, called "Wirtschaftsregion Stuttgart". One of their projects is working to promote e-mobility (electricity powered vehicles) and they had a series of e-vehicles in the garage for testing and promotional purposes. Below, Veit Haug, Director of Conception and Coordination, showing off the electric smart car and electric bike.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Seminar I: Stuttgart (3)

As part of our cultural experience, we also took a hike through Stuttgart wine country, with this lovely lady as our guide. She was adorable and hilarious and it was nice to be out and about rather than sitting in a conference room all day.

Seminar I: Stuttgart (2)

During the seminars we meet with academics, politicians, business people, and representatives of local culture/history to get a rounded view of the particular topic we're looking at. Since one of our topics included Bosch, and therefore BW, we had a chance to visit the Minister President's offices and speak with his chief-of-staff. The new Minister President is from the Green Party, an amazing development for a state that has been ruled by the CDU uninterrupted since 1953.

There are differing opinions about why the Greens won, but it is clear that the Fukushima nuclear crisis and the Stuttgart 21 project were catalysts for change. The Green's interpretation is that the citizens of BW were tired of being excluded from politics and were demanding more civil engagement whereas the CDU is of the general opinion that in the typical German fashion, the voters overreacted to the nuclear issue in Japan and the Green's took advantage of this fact. Both sides are likely to be somewhat right. The Green Party was formed as a result of the nuclear issue decades ago and in an international poll, Germans were ranked as the most reactive and more paranoid about nuclear energy. On the other hand, with the growth of the internet and easy communication, more citizens are aware of the policies their governments are implemented and they are not thrilled when they feel laws are implemented for political or monetary reasons rather than for the greater good.

The chief-of-staff outlined a new citizen engagement policy that includes discussions with stakeholders prior to the implementation of new projects and an effort to provide forums and areas where citizens can voice their opinions and provide feedback. Although I like the initiative, I sometimes question how effective simple "town hall meetings" are going be when considering bigger projects like Stuttgart 21. I think they will need a larger and more integrated program to really see impact citizen opinions and enhance engagement but nonetheless, I find this a very positive development.

These offices also have an in-house curator, and she's responsible for the management and development of the art and furniture within the building. We had a tour around the inside (I am not posting pictures because other people are in them), and it's interesting to see the influences from the different time periods. One room looks like Nixon may have chilled out there, whereas another looks nearly 200 years old. 


Monday, August 29, 2011

Seminar I: Stuttgart

As part of the Bosch Fellowship Program, we have three seminars during the year. They are broadly organized as "Germany - Federal," "Germany - State," and "Germany and the EU". The first seminar was "Germany - Federal" and included an introduction to Bosch and its home of Stuttgart, Baden-Württemberg. The first few days we were in Stuttgart, learning about the Bosch Foundation and Bosch as a company. The Foundation building is next to the original house where Bosch used to live and has an amazing view of Stuttgart. Below, to the right of the grassy area, they also have a fruit orchard where employees can go during their break and pick fresh apples to eat.

What I really like about the Bosch company/foundation relationship is the way the funding for the foundation is structured. The foundation does not engage in corporate activity, but holds 92% of the shares in order to fund its activities. The voting rights for those shares are transferred to the Robert Bosch Industrietreuhund KG trust that then decides how to vote. This separates the business from the foundation, enabling both to make the decisions they think are best for their purposes. I think that's awesome.

View from the Foundation (the orchard is down to the right, you can see a few trees)

The funding structure

The Bosch House - Some of the furniture is original, but not all of it. The house changes hands a few times, particularly during the war periods, and it took a while for the company to buy the house back and locate some of the furniture.


Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Berlin Hipster Pretention Phenomenon

Due to Berlin’s reputation for being a party city, everyone goes there to, well, party. At the same time, Berlin is filled with Hipsters who pride themselves on appearing as though they got dressed in the dark in a thrift shop that hasn’t accepted any donations since 1985

Being a Hipster has become a pretentious phenomenon in and of itself before the Hipsters started controlling the clubs in Berlin. Originally intended as a counter-pop-culture-movement, it has since become the mainstream "cool club" to belong to. You have to take time to look like you didn't take time. You have to work hard to look disinterested. And you can only be into things while they're still outside of mainstream culture. The whole concept of "not caring" has been turned on its head, since now you have to care a lot to look like you don't care. (Generally speaking, of course. There are some people where being a hipster just comes naturally.) There was an awesome episode of Happy Endings about this last season, as well as this too-long-but-still-hilarious sketch from the Harvard Sailing Club.

Anyway, the Hipsters often control entry to the bars and clubs and take unbelievable pleasure in turning people away for whatever inane reason they come up with that evening. As a result, people often "go Hipster" in order to get into particular clubs. In other words, the Hipsters themselves have taken their counter-mainstream cultures and forced it to become mainstream in Berlin. Anyone who wants to get into a club assumes a Hipster persona, and the longer they stay in Berlin, the more Hipster they become for real.

I was turned away from some random bar for showing up in a group (they let people in one by one, but turned away anyone who was in a group of more than two) and turned away from Watergate because one of our people was too fancy (he was wearing a plain white button-up shirt instead of a t-shirt with some ironic graphic image on it). Berghain, the most famous club still in existence in Berlin, has a reputation for making people wait in line for up to two hours, only to reject them for no reason once they get to the door. (I’ve also been informed that Cookies also has the Hipster Pretention Phenomenon from time to time, but I think we got there early enough to avoid that issue.) Visiting Berghain, Watergate, or Cookies is worth it at least once just to see whether or not you can pull off Hipster Chic. Luckily, because it’s Berlin, every time you’re turned away, there are three more clubs right next door waiting for you to arrive.

As a result, whenever I go to these places, I just arbitrarily put on a random conglomeration of clothes without looking in the mirror. I know that the mismatching nature of my outfit, which would normally drive me crazy, will be exactly what I need to get past the doorman. I've even purchased a pair of ankle boots that I ironically wear in warm weather with a summer dress and mismatching scarf. If I want to go super Hipster? I put on my square, thick-rimmed glasses - something I ordinarily don't need outside of the classroom.

Despite the inherent irony and pretention that exists in Berlin Hipster culture, I love the influence it has had on the city - there's always some crazy art exhibit or underground club, people wear clothes that are interesting to look at, and no one gets stressed about life. Berlin lives in the now and the only question you have to worry about is, "How long is now?"

Friday, August 26, 2011

Eastern Comfort

There is a hostel boat on the East Side of the river, called “Eastern Comfort.” Despite the crazy appearance of the boat from the outside - as well as its uglier sister "Western Comfort" - the inside of both boats are really quite nice. As it turns out, the hostel boat is run by an American from Seattle, who also throws a weekly “English-Speaking Party”. The goal of the party is to introduce Germans and other traveling foreigners to native English-speakers and spend the night speaking English. However, as the night progresses, it just becomes an international boat party with no particular language emphasis…

While I was there, a German man was speaking to one of my Spanish friends, and this is what he said about me (in all seriousness!), “Her German is fantastic, but her English is really strange. She should really work on that…” Whaaaaattt?? Last time I checked, my German was passable but the accent is funny and my English borders on perfection. *sigh*. This is why I have to constantly reassess myself and where I’m going in life…(just kidding).

We also spoke to a man from Burma. As he came over, he immediately said, “I’m really high, so I might say strange things.” We looked at him quizzically because he was pointing to a bottle of strawberry wine as he said this. “What?” “Are you really high or really drunk?” “Well, look at this bottle!! I’ve had almost half already!” Then we started laughing and asked if he had done any drugs, the mere suggestion of which shocked him. “No, no, no, no, no!! I drink but I do not do drugs!” Turns out what he meant to say was ‘really drunk’ – he didn’t understand that ‘high’ is only used for drugs. Then after I told him I was from California, he wanted to know where my parents were from. I looked at him quizzically and asked why he would want to know that.

“Well...isn’t everyone’s parents in California from Mexico?”

Sooooooo, if you’re ever in Berlin on a Wednesday, it’s definitely worth a visit!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Deutsche-Amerikanische Volkfest

A group of the Bosch Fellows went to the German-American Volksfest (folk festival) last weekend, which was absolutely hilarious. The festival is in its 51st year, and has over the years developed a “Main Street”-style “downtown”, which are basically food booths with corny facades that look like some horrible Disneyland knockoff (see pictures below). They also had a map of the U.S. that was missing a few states and a board up depicting “South Wyoming.” I have to say, North Wyoming felt a little left out…

Despite this, the festival was really fun. The beers (including some American beers) were affordable and the country music cover band was actually very talented. We also went on a rollercoaster, had frozen yogurt, and bought a Dr. Pepper. All in all, a lovely day in the sun.

We also ran into the same mustache club we saw at the international beer festival!! I immediately insisted that we take another picture together, so now we have two pictures from two different festivals with the same Berlin Bart (Mustache) Club

Two of the men in our group also had the opportunity to get a "hands on" experience with a German-style bachelorette party. In Germany, bachelor/ette parties have lots of games involved that aim at embarrassing the bride- or groom-to-be. In this case, all the women wore t-shirts that said "Germany's Next Best Wife", except for the bride-to-be, who wore a shirt covered with hearts. Each heart has a price on it, ranging from 1 to 4 Euros. The bride then had to ask men if they'd be willing to pay for one of the hearts. If the man said yes, then he had to cut the heart out of the shirt with a pair of scissors and then pay the bride the price listed on the heart he cut out. So naturally, we made the men in our group do it. They each paid 4 Euros and cut a heart out of her shirt, with lots of giggling coming from both groups during the whole process. It sort of made my life.

Am I an artist if...

I photograph other people's art??

Our lovely German instructor, Stefan Endres*, arranged for a tour of the Baden-Württemberg office in Berlin. In Germany, it's very common for public and private companies to support or sponsor contemporary artists (in stunning contrast to the U.S.) and the B-W government is no different. They have an in-house curator who collects art from B-W artists and displays it in their building. Here a few examples that were on display during our visit.

The Nefertiti bust below has a slightly different history from the rest of the works of art. The original Nefertiti bust was discovered during excavations in Egypt that were funded by James Simon, a rich Jewish textiler who lived in Berlin in the early 1900s. Simon was a philanthropist, annually donating one-third of his income to the "benefit of poor people" (i.e. building schools, hospitals, etc). He co-founded the German Oriental Society and it was one of their excavations, funded by Simon, that discovered the bust. Although Simon was well-known in his time for his generous work and his contributions to the study of history and art, he had been relatively forgotten in recent times. As a response, B-W created a memorial in his honor outside the building and set a copy of the Nefertiti bust in their library to remind everyone of the contributions Simon made.

*highly recommended for people trying to learn German in Berlin:

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


Disclaimer: Sorry for the delays in writing, as my language classes come to a close and I prepare for our three-week seminar and moving to a brand new city, I haven’t had a lot of time to write. So there are a backlog of stories that you will now be getting a few weeks late!

Two weeks ago we went to the Stasi prison in Berlin, Hohenschonhausen. Formerly a smaller Soviet prison used to question and torture people, the prison was handed over to Stasi control after the formation of the DDR and they expanded the prison by adding several new buildings. The prison can only be visited by participating in a tour, and after the tour I’m glad that they require you to do that. Although the posted boards provide information, they are not nearly as informative as a tour guide – particularly one who been in the prison herself.

Our tourguide, a seemingly ordinary, middle-class woman, began the tour by discussing the shape of the buildings, the size and the number of people held there. At the end of the introduction she says, “And this is where I spent three years of my life. But more on that later.” And then walked off to the next building. Talk about a cliff hanger!

We found out the whole story later: She had been a journalist in the DDR and was already publicly critical of the politics and the country’s leaders. During a trip to Budapest, she went to the West German embassy to inquire into the possibilities of moving to West Germany. She said that she wasn’t sure if she’d been followed there or if one of the West German embassy officials reported her, but soon after that her family started being tailed and she was eventually arrested in her home and brought to Hohenschonhausen. She spent three years undergoing psychological strain as the Stasi tried to find out if she had been working against the government, with whom, and just generally trying to punish her for being a critic. After her release, she refused to take a job because she felt that this served the interests of the DDR, a government she had no interest in supporting. In that time period, anyone who “couldn’t” find work within 6 weeks (and everyone could, because the government gave you the jobs) was considered a societal problem and was thrown into other prisons with the “regular criminals” (i.e. thieves and murderers rather than political prisoners). So she then spent another three years in a different prison. She shared a cell with three other women, two of whom had been convicted of murder. After her release she managed to get her family to Munich where she reentered journalism.

The prison itself would not have seemed so creepy without someone like our tour guide to explain the various forms of physical torture utilized by the Soviets and the psychological torture used by the Stasi. I actually have a limited number of pictures because you just could not get the true sense of what had happened there through still photographs and because I felt strange taking pictures of torture instruments...

The whole day left me unsettled. I know that people are capable of inflicting pain and agony on others, but it is always astounding to me how easily the masses can be moved to behave in such ways. Although the majority of East Germans did not participate in these activities, a large number of them did, and did so against people they knew personally. Such behavior is not a uniquely German attribute either – similar incidents have been perpetrated around the world by a variety of groups and could happen again, anywhere. Having the prison there and giving such tours is important to remind us of how easily we can suppress our humanity and emphasize how important it is for us to continue to reflect on these events even as they disappear further into history.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Instant Noodles

The plus side of Instant Noodles is that you can make them in your hotel room and have a meal for 1.25 instead of 10.00.

The down side is not being able to read Asian languages and ending up with their instant rendition of sweet n' spicy sour cabbage shrimp soup. Or something like that.

Sunday, August 21, 2011


Berlin is a city of street festivals, and last week was no exception. In addition to the International Beer Festival, there was also the Gauklerfest and the German-American Volksfest. Gauklerfest is another street festival, only this time it's focused on funny and crazy street performers. So in addition to the typical booths with crafts, beer, wurst and crepes, there were people walking around in crazy costumes and performing for your general entertainment. So, I pretty much loved it.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

1953 Uprisings

As part of the Bosch program, we also get one-on-one tutoring. My tutor, Simone, liked to have sessions around Berlin where we could visit monuments or exhibits while having our session.

Below is a visit to the Detlev-Rohwedder-Haus. It was constructed by Hitler between 1935 and 1936 to house the Ministry of Aviation and since 1999 the building has been the seat of the German Finance Ministry.

The mural below was created in 1950-52, made of Meissen pocelain tiles. Created by the German painter and commercial artist Max Lingner together with 14 artisans, it depicts the Socialist ideal of contented East Germans facing a bright future as one big happy family. In fact the mural's creation had been a somewhat messy affair. Commissioned by Prime Minister Otto Grotewohl, Lingner had had to revise it no fewer than five times, so that it ultimately bore little resemblance to the first draft.

The reason why we visited the site was because the area in front of the socialist mural later became, ironically, the site of the 1953 Uprising in East Germany. The uprising started with a strike by East Berlin construction workers on June 16. It turned into a widespread Anti-Communist uprising against the Stalinist German Democratic Republic government the next day.

Tourism Berlin (4)

My lovely friend E from California emailed me last minute to tell me her travel plans had changed and she could come visit me for the weekend! 15 minutes later her train ticket was booked and within days we were cruising around Berlin with our cameras. Since E is an architect, our tours around Berlin focused on cool and interesting buildings, including Liebeskind's Jewish Museum building.

Paul-Löbe-Haus (where the parliament members have their offices) at night...
More Pics!: 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Ordnung muss sein...

A commonly heard phrase, it's translated to English as "order must be." It refers to the German image of efficiency, organization and punctuality, and is happily used by Americans and Germans alike to describe stereotypical German behavior. I've always found the phrase funny yet irrelevant, as the Germans I knew best were chronically late, unbelievably messy, and tended to dance around their responsibilities rather than completing them in the most efficient manner possible. I used to say "Ordnung muss (nicht immer) sein".

Until, that is, I moved to Germany and wanted to get my mail delivered.

A stern and brusque woman, my landlady runs her building with efficiency, fairly but strictly ruling all within her domain. Except for putting my name on our postbox, which after three weeks of moving in was still missing from the front door. Normally I wouldn't care, but in Germany, Ordnung muss sein and if your name isn't on the box, you don't get the mail. Expecting mail from my bank, the local government, the tax ministry, and my friends and family, I was naturally anxious to put my name on the box. So after a few weeks, I finally gave up and simply put my name on a post-it note and stuck it on the mailbox on my way to school.

Imagine my glee when I came home four hours later to find that the sticky note had been removed and a nicely typed and printed sticker with my name now stood upon the box. That meant that sometime between the morning and afternoon, not only had she noticed the sticky note and removed it, but she had gone back to her office, typed up an official name tag, opened the cover, and replaced the old one. The simple incongruity provided by a little sticky note was enough to motivate my landlady into action and make me an official resident of the building. Now I know, if I ever want something, I just need to create enough incongruity to tug at the ole' German desire for order.

When it comes to the mail in Germany, as they say, Ordnung muss sein.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Pride cometh...

I *love* to cook, but I always want my effort and costs to be proportional to the time it takes me to eat and the level of enjoyment I get from eating it. I stopped trying to make Vietnamese and Thai food at home because they required so much time and so many ingredients. By the time I buy chilis, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, hosin sauce, fish sauce, shrimp paste, coconut milk, tofu, vegetables and rice noodles and make the broth that is then used to make the curry, I could have purchased and eaten food at a Thai restaurant three times over. I appreciate the time and skill it takes to make such food now, and I'm more than happy to pay someone else for their culinary artwork.

WELL. Much to my dismay, my favorite types of popcorn (caramel, sugared, anything with a sweet coating...) all require an hour of baking after cooking. An extra hour?? Not only is that extra time that I have to wait, it's also extra time where I'm using energy to keep the oven going for a snack that I will likely devour within five minutes. Then I have a total flash of genius: Add the sugary coating before the kernels are popped. When I pop popcorn, the oil I use strongly flavors the popcorn. So, following this logic, the sugar (or spices or whatever) should, too. Completely pleased with my stunning culinary prowess and creative genius, I try it, thinking I've revolutionized the process of popcorn making. The result?

Plain 'ole, get it at your local fair or movie theater kettle corn.

Of course. My flash of genius was in fact a re-flash of genius expressed by someone a hundred years ago and then spread around the world. Hahaha. Oh well. It still tasted fantastic.

Volvo Rap

I was walking down the street with a few friends when we noticed extremely loud rap music coming from somewhere. As we walked down the block towards the intersection, it became apparent that the music was coming from one of the four cars stopped at the red light but it was so unbelievably loud, we couldn't pinpoint the precise car it was emanating from. We reached the beginning of the row of cars...

Not the red truck...
Not the grey Opel...

The next car was a silver volvo sedan, the classic family car. Laughing, I turned to my friends and yelled, "What if the music was coming from the volvo?? That would be hilarious!"

Then as we were walking past the Volvo, the man in the passenger seat leaned out and the window and shouted, "It would be, but the it's not coming from us!!"

That made my day.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Please respond!

I'm messing around with my photo system so that the blog doesn't take as long to load.

The idea right now is to post excessive amounts of photography in slide show format (see last post). Please let me know if you like this better, or would prefer to have the pictures all laid out. The alternative option is to post an entry cut, where you would link to a new page if you wanted to see whole post, including the pictures. I unfortunately cannot seem to figure out the HTML code for that...if someone shows me how to do it, that will be the third option!

Option 1: leave it the way it was
Option 2: Switch to slide shows
Option 3: someone shows me how to "cut" my blog post

International Beer Festival

The world-renowned Oktoberfest is the Costco version of the smaller beer festivals that are hosted by every city (although they always have some different name). Berlin, being the capital and an international city, befittingly called their celebration the "International Beer Festival". Along multiple blocks (about a mile) the sidewalk was lined with booths selling beer from around Germany and the world. The grass area was covered with long benches and tables where people could sit to eat and drink, constituting the self-proclaimed "longest beer garden in the world". So basically, the best festival ever.

Two former roommates, both German, came to visit this weekend and to celebrate we went out to the Beer Festival, along with my two partners-in-crime from the Bosch program. We had the best time! We tried cherry beer, strawberry beer, and mango beer (definitely the winner of the bunch). We also listened to live music and took photos with British stag (bachelor) parties that were dressed in drag and with the German mustache club. (I kid you not, they grow their mustaches out so they have particular looks). Unfortunately, due to my desire to maintain anonymity for my friends, I won't be posting those pictures. However, please find some other IBF photo gems below.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Tourism! (3)

The East Side Gallery is an area of the Berlin Wall that was reclaimed as a positive place for artistic expression and the wall was covered in street art by various artists. I have been there twice now and walked down the wall and back again both times, so I've basically seen it four times. I *swear* every time I walk down, I see a new painting I didn't notice before. Here are a few choice pieces from my last visit.

Sunday, August 7, 2011


I have a teensy tinsy obsession with food, and I particularly love mastering one particular dish that I can then experiment with. Up til now I've played around with panna cotta, cupcakes, and grilled sandwiches. I've just discovered my new experimental love: popcorn! So stay tuned, since I might be posting some new recipes in the coming weeks.

Popcorn #1:
Rapseed oil and truffle salt
A tried and true classic
 - Heat oil in pan
- Add kernels and cover
- Wait for corn to be popped
- Add a light sprinkle of truffle salt
- Inhale in five minutes and then look around to see if anyone noticed that you didn't share.

Donnerwetter nochmal!

The summer in Germany has been less than desirable, so every time there is even a smidgen of sun, I try to do something outside. Last week I found a half day to go to Tiergarten, Berlin's version of Central Park, and sit in front of a small lake while I did my homework.

Cross-Cultural (Mis)Communication

People have always told me that you can't really understand a culture until you understand the jokes in that language...I now wholeheartedly agree.

I went out last weekend with an American friend and we met up with an Italian friend along the way. As we were heading home later in the evening, my American friend and I started telling jokes. We found them almost uncontrollably funny, but at some point realized that our Italian friend had not been laughing along with us. Turns out he didn't get the jokes, so we tried to explain them to him. After a lengthy discussion of the history, meaning, and hilarity of these jokes, he still looked skeptical and simply said, "I understand that the jokes are funny but I still do not understand why."

Which was to us, of course, hilarious.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Monday, August 1, 2011


A yellow jacket just landed on my desk, right next to my hand. I have no idea how it got here (windows are closed since it's STILL FREAKING RAINING) and I had a brief moment of panic about a wasp in my room. Then I grabbed my water glass and ninja smashed it.

That's all. I just wanted to share my minor victory with everyone.

Ich bin ein Kubaner...

So Saturday I had made plans to meet up with two separate groups of people, with the end goal of merging the two groups at a club in Kreuzberg. That did not happen. Instead, I went to meet up with the first group who called to inform me they would be an hour late, at which point I joined an "Abschiedsparty" (good bye party) for a drinks warehouse that was closing this particular branch.

Everyone spoke broken German (myself included) or Spanish (in which case I just stood there and smiled). It was pouring rain and the party was using a bunch of huge tents so they could grill outside while they ate inside. I initially asked if I could just stand under the tents while I waited for my friends. They said, "Sure!!" and we started talking. The Cuban, who had come over in 1987 as a guest worker to East Germany and then stayed after the fall of the wall, was grilling all sorts of fresh fish and meat that they had specially gotten for the party. He initially asked, "Do you want wine or beer?" And I was like, "no, it's ok. I don't want to crash, I'm just waiting for my friends. And then I'm going to leave." Five minutes later: "Wine or beer?" "no thanks." Five minutes later: "Wine or beer?" "No thanks." Five minutes later: "red or white?" "White please." The Cuban finally won and I accepted the glass of wine. (Although I do feel like free food and booze is winning for me, too.) 

We talked about Cuba, guest working, and specially raised pigs that only eat acorns, and later I met a German who had lived in the U.S. for 10 years, and an Italian architect who had lived in Berlin for the last three years. All the wine was from the warehouse and they had opened only the best bottles. By the end of the night I had tried two whites and two reds, all of which were excellent. The food also was amazing and I ate a ton despite having had dinner already. Needless to say, I ended up staying for two and a half hours and had a ball...

It's funny how I had initially been trying to combine two different events but unexpectedly ended up at a third one instead! As I was trying to explain this whole situation to my friend on Monday, she put it best: "You seem to keep finding these events that will only happen once ever." What can I say? It's Berlin.