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October 2022
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Völklingen Ironworks – A Cynical Take

Last October I popped over to Saarbrücken for a weekend, gong there to see the Völklinger Hütte — A UNESCO World Heritage Site that, from a distance, seemed pretty cool.  It turns out I found it rather boring — and I wrote a note to a friend about what I thought:

Today I am in Saarbrücken, Germany — which is right on the border with France.

About 11km away from me is the Völkingen Ironworks — an enormous facility that used to produce steel until it was closed in 1986.

It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site — and for 17€, one can visit the factory. It is clearly a place that used to be incredibly important, employing thousands of people, producing massive quantities of steel.

Now for the cynical Adam version of history: When the factory was closed in 1986, the local economy was fucked — clearly, nothing could replace the employment that the old steel mill provided. The local community, though, had a problem: this huge, ugly, factory on the edge of town. What could they do with the site? Option (1) find somebody to restart the steel mill (never going to happen). Option (2) tear down the facility, remediate the heavy pollutants, and restore the area into something vaguely resembling what it looked like before the factory was built (WHOA EXPENSIVE).

Then somebody had a brilliant idea: this place was important! This place made steel! This place is history! “maybe we can turn it into a UNESCO World Heritage site” -. and they did. By being a UNESCO World Heritage site it means that they only have to pay to somewhat maintain the facilities to look like what they looked like when the place closed and they would never disturb the underlying pollution, which could become incredibly costly to remediate.

My take might be incredibly cynical, but I suspect there’s a nugget of truth to it….

Beyond that, I enjoyed Saarbrücken and I would happily return to explore its more interesting touristic sites.

Weekend in Vienna

In July, I decided that I needed to plan a weekend in Vienna in order to, uh… escape the heat of my apartment for an air conditioned hotel room in Vienna. Yup, I specifically sought out air conditioning in Vienna and I appreciated it. The dates were set: the last weekend in August would be a long one in Vienna.

Once I was there, my Friday objective was to take a hike through Lainzer Tiergarten, a massively large park in south-westish Vienna. It’s over 6,000 acres of nature, with trees, grassy areas, and wild animals.

Wild boar

Yup, even Vienna can be a boar.

It was a great 8.7 kilometer (5.4 mile) hike on a rather hot day – it peaked at 30°C (86F). I was rather odoriferous by the end – while parts of the hike were in the shade, enough of it was in the sunshine that got progressively hotter and hotter as time went by.

This ended up being my principle activity in Vienna – I had a grand time doing other small things, but my Friday ended up being just this hike. I ended up back in my hotel, taking a long soapy shower before finding an early dinner. Thereafter I ended up watching Netflix in my hotel room.

Saturday involved a walk by the Danube and dinner with friends, before returning home on Sunday.

I feel like I know Vienna well enough that I no longer feel compelled to do touristy things whilst there. I like this feeling.

Essen: Well worth a visit!

Statue for Mining in Essen I spent last weekend in Essen with a friend.

The raison d’être for the trip was the Zollverein, a coal mine that has been turned into a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I’m that kind of weird.

Last October I visited the Völklinger Hütte near Saarbrücken, a steel mill turned UNESCO World Heritage Site. I never blogged about it (it happened during one of my non-blogging moods) – but it was hugely disappointing. Perhaps I will post my thoughts about it soon. Saarbrücken rocked, I would happily go back, I just wouldn’t bother to go near the Völklinger Hütte again.

Saturday morning we started by visiting the Museum Folkwang, which is a free and excellent art museum located in the heart of Essen. There were some excellent bits and bobs in the museum, and we managed to arrive on the opening day of “Expressionisten am Folkwang” – which showcased some of the museum’s best bits from the collections (and, to be fair, some completely and totally forgettable pieces of crap – in my humble opinion).

Slides at Museum Folkwang

After that we made our way to the Zollverein, where we wandered around much of the grounds.

We’d originally planned to visit the Red Dot Design Museum, but when the cashier started providing a lecture about the rules of the museum that took more than five minutes (in German), saying things like, “this is not a playground” and then itemizing several things you couldn’t touch, etc…, I had enough: if a design museum has to provide lengthy, detailed instructions on how to visit the museum, then its design has completely and utterly failed. One would hope that a design museum would be, largely, intuitively designed. After all, good design is 99% invisible.

Zollverein

The wander around the grounds turned out to be a good introduction to the facility: it allowed us to wander past most of the coking facility – a ginormous building/structure behind the mining facilities. Most of the questions we had about this facility were subsequently answered when we took the guided tour (in English) later in the afternoon.

Zollverein - Coking Plant

For a coal mine, by the way, its buildings were very pretty – steel framed construction with a curtain of bricks.

The guided tour lasted about an hour and was given by a retired school teacher whose father had worked in the mines.

This was not my first coal mine: I’ve actually visited two area mines in back in Wyoming, where the earth is stripped off the top of the coal, then a very thick seam of coal is blasted to smithereens and then transported off for processing and onward shipment.

Unlike my first coal mines, this mine was down a shaft and the seam of coal was, as I recall, only 1.5 meters thick, which is tiny compared to the ones in Wyoming.

The tour was comprehensive: our guide talked about the community surrounding the coal mine, then we climbed to the top, saw where coal was initially processed, sorted, and (if of the right quality) sent on a conveyor belt to the coking facility.

Patron Saint of Mining

When it was all said and done, on Saturday I walked 24,500 steps – I slept like a baby.

But before I close, I must note that the Essen in Essen was excellent: we ate at a French bistro on Friday evening and had a lovely Vietnamese meal on Saturday.

I would go back to Essen.

Making it Better in Wyoming, continues

About 11 years ago, I promised to donate money to the University of Wyoming Rainbow Resource Center every year.

I’ve kept my promise – some how donating enough to become worthy of individual attention from the UW Foundation. I don’t personally think that I’ve donated enough to qualify for this kind of attention, but be that as it may, it’s nice to be noticed every once in awhile.

Generally speaking, I give money in August for use during the subsequent school year. This year I’ve donated a substantial sum to the “Rainbow Resource Center Scholarship” – a scholarship fund that I am responsible for having had established. I also donated to the Rainbow Resource Center’s discretionary fund and, because I still listen to their output, Wyoming Public Media.

I view the donations as going into a black box: Wyoming is not an easy place to be a member of the LGBTQIA2S+ community, whether one is a fully out and proud or whether one is struggling with identity. Further, I have to fully recognize that I have the luxury of sitting in Berlin, Germany, living my life the way I want to live it, without many (if any) hindrances. The people running the UWyo Rainbow Resource Center know far better than I do what the UWyo students and community need and my input would be completely unhelpful at best.

Before donating, I asked how much money was in the two funds – I have to admit that the funding in the Rainbow Resource Center Scholarship fund was disappointingly low. This clearly means that its being used. I’m glad the funds are there to help people, I am sad that it is being used to the extent that it is being used. (In case anybody from UW reads this: I do not need to know for whom or why the funds are being used – it’s a black box from my perspective; keep using the money as needed..)

Nine Euros – A Great Summer

I’m a huge fan of Germany’s experiment with public transport this summer: 9€/month for unlimited local transit across the entire country?

Bravo!

Strangely, though, I’ve not really taken advantage of it, other than my trips to the airport, I’ve been out to the northern end of the S1 (Oranienburg), the northern end of the S25 (Hennigsdorf), and twice to the area around S-Mühlenbeck-Mönchmühle.

Oranienburg was fantastic: I went with a friend to Schloß Oranienburg (we purposefully did not go to the most (in)famous attraction in the area). The park was outstanding and fun.

Hennigsdorf was an utter disappointment. Had I paid for an extension ticket to visit the village I would have cried. Given that it was “free” under the terms of my 9€ ticket, I can now say that I’ve visited it. No need to ever return.

As for S-Mühlenbeck-Mönchmühle – the first time I walked back from the station to the city, the second time I wanted to visit a pizzeria in the area, but decided against it after seeing it in person.

Would I have done any of these things without the 9€ ticket? No.

Am I glad I did them? Yes.

Next weekend I’ll be visiting another city in Germany – the 9€ ticket will be very helpful there. I’m not using the 9€ ticket to get there because taking local trains would take at least 7 hours and 50 minutes and a lot of tight connections. Instead I am taking an express train – just shy of four hours in an InterCity Express.

I hope that Germany is able to figure out a way to extend the 9€ ticket – maybe not at 9€, but in some way, some form.

Podcasts I listen to (2022 Edition)

My Podcast Addict Screen

I’m fast approaching the three year mark of walking at least 10,000 steps every day, even on days when I travel and it is otherwise difficult.

A small celebration will occur when appropriate.

Many of my steps – I dare say close to most – have been accompanied by podcasts. Given that it’s probably been over a decade since I last listed what podcasts I listen to… here I go with what I currently listen to while walking – in alphabetical order, as show in my podcast app, Podcast Addict.

99% Invisible – This is one of my favorite podcasts. The program is about every day design and how it affects our lives. This podcast is excellent because it brings to the fore things that often are overlooked because it blends into the background. Five Stars, highly recommended.

Airline Voices – I’m not sure if this podcast is active any more, but the feed has first person stories from people in the aviation industry about their experiences on 9/11. The podcast arrived last year on the twentieth anniversary of the terror attack and comprises a number of thought provoking talks about what people were doing on that day and how it affected them. Five Stars, highly recommended.

Bad Gays – I discovered this podcast a few months ago, thanks to an article in The Guardian about their then forthcoming (now published) book, Bad Gays. Comprising an American living in Berlin and a Brit in the UK, this podcasts painfully dissects the lives of individuals throughout history who were gay (or on the spectrum) and whether or not they were bad gays. The podcast is super educational, but the hosts come at it with an extreme far left perspective that can be, at times, too liberal for my tastes. There are also an amazing number of caveats scattered throughout the episodes because they are too unwilling to take a stand and call somebody who was alive before the modern gay era, gay – because, well… because. Four Stars, recommended.

Betty in the Sky with a Suitcase – I’ve been listening to this podcast for a very long time. Betty is a flight attendant for a major US carrier – one that is a “Team” player; though she will not say this explicitly. The podcast comprises stories about work as a flight attendant, often featuring her coworkers. It also includes stories about her own travels, often to obscure places that I would love to visit. Five Stars, highly recommended.

CBC World at Six – The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s World at Six is one of the podcasts I’ve been listening to the longest. Normally I listen to the Pacific version of the news, which is “live” between 0300 and 0330 in Germany – when I listen to it while going to work it is still fresh and relevant. CBC has a great capacity to tell world headlines, important US stories, and, of course, Canadian News. I know more about events in Canada that I should. Five Stars, highly recommended.

Cranky Talk – This is a weekly podcast covering the aviation industry. Most episodes are pretty short and the coverage is rarely in-depth, but rather it gives an overview of a topic. Sometimes there are exceptionally good episodes, so this is a matter of sometimes winning the content lottery. Four Stars, recommended.

Sarina Bowen First Chapters – I’m a huge fan of Sarina Bowen’s books – and sometimes she releases first chapters of the audio books on this feed, so I can hear the chapters before the books are published. Sarina is one of a few authors whose books I will buy without question, without even having read a summary of the book. I admire the amount of research and care that goes into her writing. That said, audio books are not my thing and this feed is rarely updated. Three Stars, excellent choice if you like her books.

Gay Pulp – Oh. My. God. This podcast consists of books from the 1950s, 60s, and 70s being read aloud – but not just any books, the paperbound porn novels that were terribly written. Generally speaking, I am a HUGE FAN of this podcast. Books are typically unintentionally hilarious and wonderful. However—the current book, Queen’s Castle, by Remi Caruthers, is not really striking a chord with me. Gay Whore, To Want a Boy, Summer in Sodom, Queer Pen, Buffy ad the Holy Quest, and Glory Hole all enraptured me. This isn’t something for the innocent (unless they want to be corrupted): Five Stars, highly recommended – except for the current book.

Lost Highways – This is a podcast by History Colorado that comprises very well researched stories from Colorado’s history. The podcast is, perhaps, a bit less regularly published than I would like / hope, but that’s fine. If you’re from Colorado or care about Colorado’s history, this is a great podcast. Five Stars, highly recommended.

Murdaugh Murders Podcast – If you’re a fan of true crime, this is a worthwhile podcast. The crimes it is investigating are not yet solved. This is real time coverage of ongoing criminal investigations in South Carolina. The research is high quality, but the dramatic presentation tries to oversell the importance of the journalism. That said, I’m not from South Carolina and its corrupt judicial system doesn’t (normally) directly affect me. Four Stars, recommended.

Radio Spätkauf (“Get Help Berlin” on the grid) – this is “Berlin News in English.” Generally speaking, it’s published once a month and provides an English language overview of news in Berlin and, sometimes, in Germany. They occasionally do deep dives into specific topics – which is how I found them. Their series, “How to Fuck-Up an Airport” is decently researched and provides a decent overview of how we ended up with Berlin Brandenburg International Airport instead of something decent. However, the hosts are very liberal and want things that I do not want. There are also elements of naivety in their coverage. If you live in Berlin, it’s a five star program worth listening to. Otherwise, two stars.

RadioLab – This is a famous science podcast that, I think it is fair to say, revolutionized how science stories are told in an audio format. Unfortunately, now that the two original hosts have retired, the podcast seems to be focusing on how to raise money for WNYC, its host radio station. Historically this podcast was excellent, I feel like it has jumped the shark, but I still keep giving it chances. I probably should drop it. Two stars, it survives because of its history.

Rumble Strip – This is a Vermont focused podcast. I don’t have much of a Vermont history to speak of, but I find the podcast charming and fun to listen to. Four Stars, recommended.

State of Belief – I’m not religious. Far from it. However, this program provides a liberal-religious take on US politics every week. The content is well thought out and provides a depth of knowledge that I would probably otherwise never consider. Four Stars, recommended.

Stuff the British Stole – This Australian based podcast investigates things that the British Stole throughout history, talking about the consequences of this theft. The research is top notch and the stories engaging. I hope new episodes come out soon. Five Stars, highly recommended.

Taskmaster The Podcast – I am a Taskmaster addict. I love the TV show very much. This podcast discusses the current UK series or, when there isn’t a current UK series, past UK series. If you’re not a Taskmaster fan, then this podcast will not be worth listening to. Ed Gamble is a terrific host. If you adore Taskmaster, then this is easy: Five Stars, highly recommended.

Taskmaster: The People’s Podcast – this is a second podcast about the UK Taskmaster, but it is the weaker of the two. Lou Sanders, the host, is not my favorite contestant and I’m not a huge fan of how she hosts the show. However, I love Taskmaster, so… uh… I listen. Three Stars; only for hardcore Taskmaster fans.

The Atlas Obscura Podcast – The Atlas Obscura website is a terrific way to find obscure, funky sites while traveling. Four days a week, there’s a new episode that explores something interesting. Friday is a repeat from the back catalog. Five Stars, highly recommended.

The Big Ponder – This is a German-USA podcast that takes dives into topics of interest in both places. The range is eclectic and you never know what the next episode will be about. Four Stars, recommended.

The Horne Section – Alex Horne, the Horne in the Horne Section, is why I discovered this podcast. He, like me, doesn’t have a musical note in his body, but he does have a band. The episodes are usually excellent, but… alas, Alex Horne is a very busy man: he is the Taskmaster’s Assistant, so there hasn’t been a new episode of the Horne Section in a very, very, long time. Five Stars, highly recommended.

The Modern West – Wyoming Public Radio puts out this series which covers life in the rural, modern, west. Topics are diverse, the research is excellent, and the voices diverse. Five Stars, highly recommended.

This American Life – This is an old favorite. Though, I think it might no longer speak to me because I am not enjoying the new episodes as much as I used to. Four Stars, recommended.

Welcome to Provincetown – The first season just finished – this is a take on life in Provincetown, Massachusetts, in the summer. I’ve never been, but apparently, the city is incredibly gay. I enjoyed listening to the podcast, but I have to confess that, as a misanthropic, introverted gay, Provincetown sounds more like a nightmare. Four Stars, recommended.

What Roman Mars Can Learn About Con Law – Formerly “What Trump can teach us about Con Law,” this is a monthly podcast where Roman Mars hosts a discussion with Elizabeth Jon, a Constitutional Law Professor, to discuss recent news with respect to constitutional law. Started in response to the nightmare that was Donald Trump, the program continues today. Five Stars, highly recommended.

Now that I’ve moved…

I moved across Berlin back in September 2020 – thankfully during a “pause” of sort in the pandemic. Despite having been around a large number of people who were instrumental in my successful move (movers, my handyman, people installing lots of stuff), I managed to not get Corona.

Success!

… and I still have not had Corona (as far as I know).

While I love my new home, with more space, a guest bedroom, in-floor heating, and surrounded by parks – I sometimes pause and reflect on my old home in Schöneberg.

For, with the exception of Frau Covfefe upstairs, my old home was excellent.

Steps from my front door were excellent restaurants of many stripes: Indian, German, cafes, Vietnamese, Italian, bakeries, and more. There’s no way I could do justice in listing all the amazing restaurants in Schöneberg.

When it comes to my new home, I have a nice biergarten in a nearby park and a couple of places that I am willing to go back to, if you know what I mean. When using food delivery apps, I’ve found one decent American-esque pizza restaurant and a burger restaurant. I’ve also discovered that most delivery pizza to my new home is terrible and makes Domino’s look outstanding.

In Schöneberg I lived near the gayborhood; there is no gayborhood anywhere near where I live now: I now have parks and old-(for Berlin)-growth trees in several large parks. Sitting at my dining table, I look out the window and see (right now) leafy trees with a couple of taller (e.g. 7 or 8 story) apartment buildings poking up.

I guess I am a bit bittersweet: I miss Schöneberg but I love my new home. I do not miss Frau Covfefe, I do miss the restaurants.

Though come to think of it, I’ve never really described Frau Covfefe.

Some other time.

Meet Fred Meyer

One of my family’s stories involves a very young Adam – but considering that I do not remember the story, I would presume it happened in the 1970s, roughly speaking.

We’d taken a family trip to Oregon – which is where my maternal grandmother lived. My maternal grandfather died before I was born.

I have no idea where we went on that trip, but evidently we drove a lot of places, seeing Fred Meyer everywhere.

For those of you unfamiliar with Fred Meyer, it’s a chain of grocery stores that pretty well blankets Oregon and other parts of the Pacific Northwest. Back then it was independent, today it’s part of the Kroger family.

At some point we pulled into Salem and looked at the state capital building.

Atop the building is a golden man – quite striking.

One of my siblings asked the question, “Who is on top of the state capital?”

I knew the answer: Fred Meyer.

Oregon State Capital

38 Days, revisited.

38 DaysAt my new home, this piece of art no longer hangs directly in view from my working position – so it is no longer something I stare at continuously.

I previously featured 38 Days in my blogpost Whatchamacallit 152.

Now I see it whenever I leave my bedroom.

It still resonates, as a testimony to the 38 days it took Ahmed Alali to travel from Damascus to Berlin back in 2015.

The world is a vastly different place today – having experienced a pandemic and now, alas, another war. This time the war is significantly closer and many refugees are coming straight through Poland to Berlin, making Berlin their first stop. The last numbers I saw suggest that right now at least 10,000 refugees are arriving every single day, taking the train from Ukraine to Berlin. Many move on to points beyond Berlin, but a substantial number are just happy to be here.

I’m thrilled that I live in a city that is so welcoming, able to absorb and help so many people.

Yesterday, while standing on a train platform, I spotted a Ukrainian flag flying proudly above a nearby garden plot.

Ukrainian flag in Berlin

Wir schaffen das.

23: Matthew Shepard

Matthew Shepard died 23 years ago today. Considering Matthew Shepard Facebook Post announcing concert in Bloomington, Indiana.

Another year has ticked by.

Another moment to pause and reflect on Matthew Shepard.

One remarkable thing about Matthew Shepard is that he continues to be present in society – I was scrolling through Facebook last week and I noticed that Indiana University Credit Union (my primary bank in America) is sponsoring the Bloomington Chamber Singers.

Their concert last weekend?

Considering Matthew Shepard

In October of 1998, Matthew Shepard, a young, gay student at the University of Wyoming in Laramie was kidnapped, severely beaten, tied to a fence and left to die in a lonely field under a blanket of stars. Five days later, when Matt passed away, the world was watching. Approaching the eve of the 20th anniversary, Craig Hella Johnson has responded with his first concert-length work, Considering Matthew Shepard.

Led from the piano by Johnson, Considering Matthew Shepard showcases the award-winning artistry of Conspirare’s singers with a chamber ensemble of renowned instrumentalists. This three-part fusion oratorio speaks with a fresh and bold voice, incorporating a variety of musical styles seamlessly woven into a unified whole. Johnson sets a wide range of poetic and soulful texts by poets including Hildegard of Bingen, Lesléa Newman, Michael Dennis Browne, and Rumi. Passages from Matt’s personal journal, interviews and writings from his parents Judy and Dennis Shepard, newspaper reports and additional texts by Johnson and Browne are poignantly appointed throughout the work.

Considering Matthew Shepard debuted at #4 on Billboard’s Traditional Classical Chart after Harmonia Mundi released the 2-CD Set recording in mid-September, 2016. Album page Audiences describe this work as “brilliant,” “powerful,” “innovative,” “dazzling,” and “gripping.” The Bay Area Reporter wrote “it has the richness, depth and complexity to compel repeated hearing, and the power to get you the first time out,” and from the The Washington Post: “’Considering Matthew Shepard’” demonstrates music’s capacity to encompass, transform and transcend tragedy. Powerfully cathartic, it leads us from horror and grief to a higher understanding of the human condition, enabling us to endure.”

Considering Matthew Shepard joins the ranks of many significant artistic responses to Matthew Shepard’s legacy. Most noteworthy is The Laramie Project by Moises Kaufman and the Members of the Tectonic Theater Project, which has been seen by more than 30 million people. Jason Marsden, Executive Director of the Matthew Shepard Foundation calls Considering Matthew Shepard “by far the most intricate, beautiful and unyielding artistic response to this notorious anti-gay hate crime.”

Matthew Shepard’s story must never be forgotten.

The fact that Matthew continues to be remembered so vividly, so brilliantly, and in so many ways is remarkable.

Yet at my core, what I remember is my visceral reaction to the initial shock, the out of body feeling – crawling into my closet at home in Bloomington and crying.

R.I.P. Matthew “Matt” Wayne Shepard – *December 1, 1976; †October 12, 1998


For historical reference, see 2004200520062007200820092010201120122013,  201420152016201720182019, 2020 or any of the many times he’s been mentioned on my blog via a search for Matthew Shepard.