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Don’t have a lot time to explore Berlin and Brandenburg? Then ModellPark!

Mini Brandenburg Tor

A couple weeks ago I spent an afternoon after work exploring ModellPark Berlin – Brandenburg.

Mini Reichstag

Located in the middle of Volkspark Wuhlheide – or something vaguely in the middle – ModellPark is a collection of something like 60 miniature replicas of buildings from Berlin and Brandenburg, ranging from the places I know, to a lot of places I’ve never heard of.

Mini Pfaueninsel

And since everything is miniature sized and I’m not, the scale is completely awesome. I found myself staring in the windows of HOWOGE, pondering what was happening inside. Never has Brandenburg Tor ever felt so small.

HOWOGE

The crazy thing was that for a splendid afternoon, the ModellPark was virtually empty. It was also hard to find – following the signs from the nearby street led us to nowhere, and a map of the park was lacking the “You are here” indicator that would have made it useful.

The other crazy thing was that the park appeared to be poorly maintained – but then in the middle of the forest, we found this patch of grass that was freshly mowed.

Constructing Airports is Hard: Denver and Berlin…

The last couple of weeks have seen stories on both sides of the Atlantic that have given me pause for thought – a chance to reflect on the history of airport construction in this modern era.

On the western side of the pond, Denver International Airport is finally – a mere 21 years and (roughly) 2 months after it opened – linked to downtown Denver via a commuter rail system, RTD’s A-Line.

Random Aside: That’s not the actual train line name, but the official name is incredibly long, long because a local university system coughed up $5 million to name the train after itself, even though the train doesn’t really serve any of its campuses. I don’t blame RTD for taking the money and running, but I do think the university in question displayed a sever lack of judgment in how it spent its money.

For those of us who lived (and grew up) in Denver in this era, the main thing most of us remember is that the airport opened years late. In fact, it was initially supposed to open on October 31, 1993. It didn’t. Nor did it open December 19, 1993, March 9, 1994, or May 15, 1994. It eventually opened on February 28, 1995.

I might note that the delayed opening of Denver International Airport allowed me to get a summer job working at the Stapleton International Airport’s finest fine dining restaurant, the Signature Room. The company running concessions at the old airport did not get as many concessions at the new airport and was having a terrible time holding on to employees. Thus they took any and all idiots to work for them. Including me. Let me just say that I am an adequate bus boy and a mediocre waiter.

Opening Day at Denver International Airport

Working at Stapleton, I got an employee discount, which I used to buy the above t-shirt.

The main reason – at least visible reason – that the airport’s opening was delayed was the automated baggage system. I couldn’t locate a news clip from that era, but at one critical test – a test held before the camera lenses of local news media – the system destroyed bags with what felt like automated glee.

There were probably other underlying reasons that the airport’s opening was delayed, but the baggage system was the big one. Per Wikipedia, Denver International Airport officially opened 16 months late, and US$2 Billion over budget.

At the time, that was a scandalous delay and a huge sum of money.

And another aside: the automated baggage system lasted a mere 10 years before it was tossed on the scrap heap: Denver Airport Saw the Future. It Didn’t Work.

Meanwhile, enter Berlin.

Like Denver, Berlin decided to build a new airport – and like Denver, there have been some delays – the airport was supposed to open on June 3, 2012.

There’s no typo there, I did, in fact, write 2012.

That’s more than four years ago and it has not yet opened.

And when I say, that was the planned opening date, they were serious: the airport was supposed to open then – I even had a ticket that was supposed to originate and return to the new airport – a multi-leg trip with three stops. The trip was memorable for an unfortunate technical reason: given that the airport hadn’t opened, my ticket was never really technically correct, and checking in for each set of flights had to involve human beings who would spend a lot of time typing on their keyboards trying to get me checked in.

As I’ve been watching this disaster unfold in slow motion, I’ve come to appreciate how well executed the Denver International Airport’s construction was – the main difference was that Denver’s airport had professional managers and a solid plan, even if the baggage system turned out to be a disaster.

The problems in Berlin are more numerous – in part because Berlin’s idiotic, incompetent, and deluded mayor (at the time) Klaus Wowereit thought he knew better than the professionals. The rank incompetence is flabbergasting and it feels like whenever news about the new Berlin Airport strikes, it’s never particularly hopeful.

Earlier in the month, they fired their spokesperson:

The spokesman for Berlin’s new airport, which is billions of euros over budget and years behind schedule, has been sacked for saying that the project was “shit” and “no one can guarantee” that it will ever open. … However, in his interview with PR industry magazine prmagazin, Abbou said: “No one, unless he is addicted to drugs, will give you any fixed guarantees for this airport.”

The PR guy lasted started his job in January and was fired in April.

Then, in an interview with a Berlin newspaper, Dieter Faulenbach da Costa, who was planning the new airport back in the 1990s, revealed that he thought the new Berlin airport would never open (see thelocal for English).

The man formerly responsible for planning Berlin’s much-delayed international airport has claimed the air hub will never open, after a series of failures have left city authorities red faced.

The numbers here are staggering: in theory the airport will open in late 2017, and it is at least €4.8 billion over budget.

Plus it appears that the new airport will already be too small – on day one.

TB or not TB – Baum & Zeit at Beelitz-Heilstätten

Beelitz-Heilstätten

A couple weekends ago, I met up with one of my colleagues and headed out to Beelitz-Heilstätten, out on the southwestern edge of Berlin.

Beelitz-Heilstätten is a very well known site for explorers of abandoned buildings – it’s a site with a plethora of buildings that have, to be blunt, seen better days. Back in the 1880s, the facility was built as a place to cure tuberculosis, isolating patients from the large city, giving them a place to rest and recover, without infecting others. This is probably an overly short history of the place, but that’s the main point: it was a tuberculosis hospital.

Beelitz-Heilstätten

And then it was a military hospital for the Russians.

And then…

Well, for the “and then” part, I recommend taking a look at Abandoned Berlin’s two reports: Haunted by history: The ghosts of Beelitz-Heilstätten and Beelitz-Heilstätten: Back for further treatment.

What’s happened in the most recent chapter of “and then” is Baum & Zeit – some people spent 7,000,000€ to open up what I can only describe is an attempt to turn the abandoned building into a tourist trap.

Beelitz-Heilstätten

It comes complete with a 320 meter long sky-walk that is about 21 meters up in the air, thus allowing you the opportunity to view *one* abandoned building from the air, all for the low-low price of 9.50€. (Plus 2€ to park your car, plus 1€ for a surprisingly small sized serving of Sprite, and food prices high enough to deter all but the starving and rich.)

Beelitz-Heilstätten

And while I’m sure that some of the 7 million Euro was spent on the sky bridge, it appears that much of it was spent on fencing. There’s fencing around each individual building, there’s fencing around the part of the area with the sky-walk, there’s fencing around the base of the sky-walk, there’s fencing around the fencing… Naturally you can pay for tours to go inside some of fencing to get tours of some of the abandoned buildings.

Beelitz-Heilstätten

My impression of Baum & Zeit is that it is, at best, a one-and-done tourist attraction for me. It’s interesting to see fenced off abandoned buildings, and I imagine the relative ease and cleanliness of the place (hey- after paying 9.50€ to get inside the fence, the toilets are fee and clean!) will be an attraction for risk-adverse urban explorers, but it’s hard for me to imagine that a lot of people will comes out.

I bet the investors are losing their shirts.

It’s starting again…

Back in 2004 when I moved to Germany, I constantly had to explain George W. Bush and explain why it was he was (re-)elected president. Much of the time my new friends and colleagues sought to understand how such a great country (like America) could vote for such an idiot – Republican behaving badly.

In 2008, the questions slowed, if not stopped.

Obama was understandable, intelligent, and awesome.

Maybe not perfect, but awesome nevertheless.

And, save for the Republican caused deficit crisis of 2011, when I ended up having to explain exactly how that aspect of America worked and why Republicans were behaving badly.

So, it’s been good.

Until the last few months, when the questions started flying: Donald J. Trump? Seriously?

I wish I had an answer.

A Boy Like Me – Personal ruminations about the T in GLBT – and me.

Last week I finished reading A Boy Like Me, which is a young adult novel focusing on the story of Peyton, a boy who was born a girl.

It’s a story focusing on the trials and tribulations of being a masculine acting girl, who hates her birth name, and wants to be a guy – but isn’t. And he has a girl who he wants to be his girlfriend. Although the story is interesting, I didn’t actually find the internal motivation of Peyton to be all that strong – there was angst, but some how it seemed less internally turbulent than I expected. Peyton has a therapist who teases out the FTM aspects of Peyton’s inner-compass, but some how the inner-angst is never really communicated to the reader – at least not this reader.

I guess I’m saying that I have very mixed feelings about the book. Maybe it speaks better to the struggling FTM teenager. Since I’m not that guy, I will withhold any more serious criticism.

But it – along with an old college friend finding me on Facebook – brought me back to thinking about my attitudes toward transgender issues.

The fact is that when I was at UWyo, I thought the T in GLBT went a step too far.

But that’s because I wasn’t comfortable with myself – I wasn’t comfortable with the G in GLBT, never mind the L, the B, or the T. Coming to terms with the G took me a couple of years – it wasn’t until I was in Indiana that I came out (even if others knew before I came out – we are talking about my internal experiences here) and became comfortable with this.

Once comfortable, I was fine: I’ve been close with at least three people who are best described as transgender. If I’d met them as a freshman at UW, I would have turned and run away as fast as I could. But now it doesn’t turn my head – unless he’s exceptionally cute.

There’s a growth pattern here – an inner evolution for me as I’ve come to realize that I want everybody to be themselves – even if that means changing.

Paternal Memories: Elementary School

Last weekend I popped up to see friends, and on Friday we went to pick up my friend’s son at grundschule – elementary school.

I think that it was my first time inside an elementary school in years – to be honest I cannot remember the last time I was inside one – and it was interesting.

The first thing I noticed is that the school lacked the security that I typically expect exists in American elementary schools: a locked front door, a paranoid secretary guarding it, and a strong fence. We waltzed right in the front door and were immediately confronted with a massive chaotic crowd of screaming kids – running all about.

Clearly this is not my environment.

But what immediately popped into my head was my father’s comment about elementary school.

Actually, he said it was misnamed: it should be named Yellamentary school.

I might have been a bit too young to fully appreciate his observation at the time, but today – I totally agree.

So… Books 111 to 116. And an end to 2015.

I’m ending the year (right now) at 116 books, plus a second book that I’ve not finished because, well… this time because it’s terrible.

Tonight I’m going to start reading what’s either book 117 or book 1: The Eternal Zero (Naoki Hyakuta; translated by Chris Brynne and Paul Rubin). The book was just translated into English, but it’s also a movie that I’ve once seen while flying ANA. It’s a movie that I suspect most Americans would abhor, especially since it features a heroic Japanese pilot during World War II.

In the meantime, here are the books that I’ve already finished:

111) Selling Apartheid: South Africa’s Global Propaganda War (Ron Nixon) – This is an interesting book that examines how the white led South African government did its best to sell apartheid to the world, even going so far as to co-opt African-Americans to lobby the US Government against sanctions. Although fascinating, the book is one of those works that reminds me that humanity is filled with inhuman assholes.

112) Focus on Me (Megan Erickson) – This is a semi-sweet gay romance novel featuring a character with a mental issue. The book worked as mental relief whenever Selling Apartheid got a bit too heavy.

113) Between the World and Me (Ta-Nehisi Coates) – This is an impressive work that examines what it means to be African-American in America – the binding constraints that come with it.

114) Purity (Johnathan Franzen) – I’d never heard of Johnathan Franzen before he came up in conversation in October – and Purity was proposed to be a book club book. A copy was loaned to me and I tackled it over Christmas. The book is incredibly long, incredibly dense, and incredibly boring – at least for me. I didn’t get some parts of the story and, to be frank, I didn’t care.

115) Pleasured (Philip Hensher) – This is a strange Berlin-centric novel that starts in December 1988 and ends after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Early in the book there’s a rant about how Berlin is being gentrified and that people are being forced out because they can no longer afford to live in the city. Strangely, I’ve heard this rant several times in the last twelve months.

116) Confessions of a D.C. Madam: The Politics of Sex, Lies, and Blackmail (Henry W. Vinson) – This is an interesting memoir of Henry Vinson, who was the man behind one of Washington D.C.’s male escort businesses in the 1980s. There are many amusing aspects to his life, the prostitution aspect, and the blackmail. The book is certainly an engaging page-turner, even if I’m not sure I believe everything he says.

And the second unfinished book of the year: Promised to Two Bears (Bear Mountain Book 4) (Kelex) – This is a terrible gay(ish) romance novel that should never have been written.

Reviewing 2015: The best letter I received…

Wyoming Public Media Letterhead

Back in October, while visiting my family, I picked up a small stack of random mail that had some how found my Mom’s mailbox instead of my mailbox. And by mail, I mean actual letters, delivered by a friendly person in a uniform.

One letter I received was from Wyoming Public Media:

Dear Adam,

It looks like your membership renewal has come and gone. We last received a gift from you on 3/26/1998. It is our hope that you will renew your membership today and help keep Public Radio alive and well in Wyoming.

This is the kind of letter that makes me snort: a mere 17.5 years after I last donated money to Wyoming Public Radio (and it was Wyoming Public Radio back then), they tracked me down – at the wrong address – and begged for money.

Make no mistake, Wyoming Public Radio, at least when I was listening to it back in the 1990s, was the finest public radio station in America. I was still listening to Colorado Public Radio whenever I commuted home, but CPR was mediocre, with illusions of grandeur.

It wasn’t actually until after I moved to Bloomington, Indiana, and suffered through WFIU-FM, that I came to understand how incredibly good Wyoming Public Radio was – WFIU was (and presumably still is) the most pretentious, odious, awful public radio station in America. Held hostage by classical music freaks, I once heard the station apologize for omitting a five-minute interlude of classical music due to an excess of important news.

As a Master’s student hard at work on my thesis, KUWR’s morning music program, which I think was hosted by Don Woods, was the most delightful mix of contemporary music – the perfect accompaniment to endless typing and sorting of source materials.

Wyoming Public Radio was a station I wholeheartedly supported – even volunteering to work the phones during their fund raising drives.

Which I guess makes it all the more ironic that I received this letter – 17.5 years later. It’s not that I do not miss Wyoming Public Radio Media, it’s that I haven’t listened to their programming on a regular basis since moving from Wyoming.

The letter was worth a laugh and a blog post, but my wallet remains closed to the station – I’m donating to the University of Wyoming, just not its radio station.

Frohe Weihnachten!

Christmas Tea TowelAnother Christmas has rolled around – so to those of you of that particular faith tradition, Merry Christmas!

In the run up to this year’s celebration, I decided not to inflate my Christmas tree, instead opting to have a Spartan display consisting of a Christmas Tea Towel.

But at the same time friends sent me pictures of their real, authentic, living (at least for a brief while longer) trees.

Which brought back memories of growing up.

As a kid we had a real, authentic, living (at least for a brief while longer) tree each year, one that we personally cut down in a US Forest north of Denver. The annual adventure to cut down the tree is one of my favorite memories: we would get up early, get in the car, and drive north from Denver to Fort Collins, where we would get off the highway and get breakfast at McDonald’s. As a young kid I slept most of the way from Denver to McDonald’s.

After breakfasting, we would drive north on US 287, hang a left somewhere (I believe toward Red Feather Lakes), then into the forest, where the Forest Service had authorized tree cutting. We would hike through the snow – always deep and powdery (as I recall it) – until we found the perfect tree.

Using an axe to cut down the Christmas tree was an act signaling novice Christmas tree cutters, at least according to my Dad. He would pull out his trusty bow saw in order to quickly and efficiently bring the tree down.

From there, the tree would be carried back to the car and tied on the roof – stump first. Then we were off to the exit, where we would pay the US Forest Service for the trees, and a tag applied to each one, signaling that it was legally acquired.

There’s something to be said for real, authentic, living (at least for a brief while longer) trees – other than the tree sap. As I recall it, trees leak a lot of sap – leaving hands, jackets, and gloves sticky.

As a somewhat confirmed neat freak, the prospect of sticky tree sap on my clothing, or my apartment floor, appalls me, even as the memories make me feel cozy and happy.

Christmas Tree on Friedrichstrasse

Christmas Tree on Friedrichstrasse

Books 98 to 110: Holy Cow!

The year is rapidly winding down – and in a year that I do not think of as particularly reading intensive, I’ve already read 110 books – and I have two more in progress, which should all be finished by the end of the year. I’ll even bet that I read a lot more than just those, after all I have a long weekend next weekend, which should provide a lot of time to curl up with books.

Of course, I should note that this list of books does not include any of the Economist magazines that I read weekly, any of the other media I read – including newspapers, other magazines, crap on the web – or, and most importantly, anything I read for work.

Suffice it to say, my life appears to revolve around the written word.

98) Male Sex Work and Society (Victor Minichiello and John Scott, eds) – This is a book that I had on the shelf a long time – and, to be honest, it did not really keep my attention. It’s a collection of 17 scholarly articles focused on rent boys, from a variety of perspectives. This is not a page turner – it’s a dense, heavy, scholarly book. Not really pleasure reading, if you ask me. But interesting on a meta-level.

99) A Man Called Ove (Fredrik Backman) – I picked this up leaving the UK – it’s originally Swedish, a very sweet story about a curmudgeonly old man who – well, I don’t want to spoil one of the main points of the plot, a reoccurring theme. What’s a bit disturbing is that I see a lot of myself in Ove – in how I want to live my life. The book is well worth the time.

100) The House at Otowi Bridge: The Story of Edith Warner and Los Alamos (Peggy Pond Church) – I picked this up in New Mexico in October and flew through it one Saturday. It’s a charming story about Edit Warner, a woman who lived in an isolated, remote house, far from others, but central to many. Her home was one of the few places that scientists working at Los Alamos could go while doing their wartime research.

101) Stolen Legacy: Nazi Theft and the Quest for Justice at Krausenstrasse 17/18, Berlin (Dina Gold) – This is a book about a building quite close to my office, in East Berlin. In the 1930s it was taken over by the Nazis, and this book is exploring how the family got justice from the German government following reunification. The book actually rocks along pretty well, until it gets to the third part, where she wants vengeance. I don’t mind the justice (getting compensation for the building), but at some point the vengeance aspect – which includes exploration of how her relatives survived (or not) Nazi Germany – gets tedious. Although maybe that’s because I live in Berlin and am constantly exposed to holocaust history.

102) Gay Berlin (Robert Beachy) – This book I first noticed while looking at the books for sale after exploring the large gay history exhibit at the Deutsche Historisches Museum. It’s actually a quite interesting book that covers gay history in Berlin from about 1880 through 1933; a period of time when Berlin was one of the greatest places to be gay – well, maybe not at the end. It’s a period of history that isn’t oft talked about, but is interesting. Unfortunately the book has a couple of dry spots that bored me. It did mention the next book in this list.

103) The Hustler: The story of a Nameless Love from Friedrichstrasse (John Henry Mackay) – I grabbed this because it was mentioned in Gay Berlin – it’s a book about a boy from northern Germany who comes to Berlin and becomes a rent boy. It’s also a story about older man who falls for the rent boy. The story wanders through the streets of 1920s Berlin, a city that is simultaneously familiar and not. The book moves around Friedrichstrasse, which is close to my office and so I found it seemingly close, but not that close.

104) Geek Girl (Holly Smale) – This is a sweet YA novel about a geeky girl who suddenly becomes a model. It’s charming, fairly well written, and fun. I have no idea how it ended upon my to-read list, but I am glad it did.

105) Latakia (JF Smith) – At some point, I needed a known quantity; an old favorite. So I re-read Latakia, a sweet gay romance novel that starts in Syria, a naval ship, and then the east coast. I like the novel because it’s well written (which actually describes all of JF Smith’s novels) and engaging. It’s a fast read… and when I read it, exactly what I needed.

106) Drunk in Love (Olivia Black) – A long time ago I started paying attention to Brent Everett, a gay porn star – it’s an off again and off again relationship. He’s not my type, but I decided to try reading this gay romance novel that is, if drunk, is loosely based on his life. He’s part of a throple – which in this novel is transformed into a paranormal shape-shifting couple and their human third, which then becomes a throple. Seriously stupid. What a waste of money.

107) A Single Man (Christopher Isherwood) – Christopher Isherwood is a guy who comes up frequently when talking about Berlin’s gay history. He’s a Brit who lived in Berlin in the late 1920s through 1933 and wrote several novels inspired by his time in Berlin – he also, per Wikipedia, said of The Hustler (book 103), “It gives a picture of the Berlin sexual underworld early in this century which I know, from my own experience, to be authentic.” Regardless, I’d avoided reading him because I assumed that he’d be a challenge – but I finally decided to give it the old college try, going with something I knew: A Single Man – a movie version of the book. The movie is excellent; the book is excellent. I found it completely engaging and absorbing.

108) Beyond Magenta (Susan Kuklin) – This is a collection of interviews with young, teen, transgender individuals, including one intersex individual. Not particularly engaging or enthralling, but definitely adding to perspective.

109) Kyle’s Bed & Breakfast: Without Reservations (Greg Fox) – Kyle’s Bed & Breakfast is the number one comic about a gay B&B on the planet, quite possibly because it’s the only comic about a gay B&B on the planet. It’s one of my favorite comics to read and I eagerly await each new addition, reading it as soon as it is released. This book is the fourth collection of the strip and made for an enjoyable afternoon.

110) Bad Feminist (Roxane Gay) – One of my friends gave me this book last summer and I finally started reading it a week or two ago – it’s my bedtime book which means that I did not make progress on it every night. The collection of essays starts strong, but then gets bogged down in esoteric material that, while relevant to Roxane, is not really of interest to me. Which made some of the essays a real struggle to finish.