Cycling the Iron Curtain

Paul Kaye had an idea. He loves cycling, photography, and Cold War history, so he decided to combine the three by cycling the length of the old Iron Curtain from the Baltic Sea to the Adriatic and documenting his journey.

The 3,600 km (2,237 mile) ride took in several different countries, some of which didn’t even exist when the Cold War was on, and countless towns and villages that are now reunited after a long period of separation.

His photos of crumbling watchtowers and scraps of the Berlin Wall are highly evocative, especially to someone like me who grew up with the threat of nuclear war hovering over his head. I remember in high school when someone was talking about something that might happen in the far future, they’d qualify it by saying, “If we don’t blow ourselves up first.” I’m very happy I haven’t heard that expression for twenty years now.

Paul’s Curtainrider blog tells the whole story. The BBC has a great gallery of his photos here. He’s also come out with a lavishly illustrated book telling of his adventures.

The European Union is turning the entire route into an Iron Curtain Trail for hikers and cyclists, so get your bike ready and head out to see some history.

Berlin hotel offers bed, breakfast and a piece of the wall

The Westin Grand hotel in Berlin has recently added a surprisingly creative package to their lineup of perks.

Instead of the usual drab spa services, or package with a snack in your room, the Westin is offering guests the chance to stay at their hotel and take home a piece of the Berlin wall.

Right in the main lobby of the hotel is an authentic piece of the wall, weighing in at 2.7 tons.

Guests who book the “tear down the wall” package will receive a night at the hotel, along with a safety helmet, goggles and a hammer and chisel. They are then free to bang away on the wall and grab their very own piece of history.

After the hard work, guests can visit parts of historic Berlin with a complimentary guidebook. The package even includes a glass of Champagne and a Currywurst.

Packages start at EUR199 and can be booked directly on the web site of the Westin Grand Berlin.

Berlin celebrates 20 years of wall’s collapse

The Berlin Wall was pulled down 20 years ago, giving birth to a new industry: selling pieces of the Berlin Wall. Remember that? Well, all the pieces were probably bought long ago (well, except the “real” one that you picked up last week, of course), but there is still plenty you can do to celebrate. The list of cultural events is long and impressive, like the German translation of a short word in English. So, take a look at what Berlin has to offer.

Long Night of Museums lets you visit 100 museums will be open from 6 PM Saturday until 2 AM on Sunday every weekend from January 31 to August 29.

Take in the 59th Berlin International Film Festival (Berlinale) from February 5 to February 15; more than 400 films will be screened, many of them European premieres.

At the Festival Days at the Staatsoper Unter den Linden, Wagner’s Lohengrin opera will be staged, and other classical music performances will be available from April 4 to April 12.

Enjoy even more of the cultural stuff at the Extended Opera and Theatre Night on April 25. Half-hour events are available from 7 PM to 10 AM on 60 stages, and buses take visitors from theater to theater.

Other events include:

  • Berlin’s Lesbian and Gay Street Festival, June 20-21, and Christopher Street Day, June 27
  • Fete de la Musique, June 21, free concerts on over 50 open-air stages throughout Berlin
  • Jewish Cultural Days, Aug 29-Sep 6
  • Classic Open Air Berlin, July 2-6; opera, classical music
  • Berlin International Beer Festival, Aug 7-9, when Karl-Marx-Allee turns into the world’s longest beer garden and bar, with 190 breweries offering beer along a mile-long stretch
  • Real Berlin Marathon, Sep 19-20, a 42-km run
  • Festival of Lights, Oct 13-25; fireworks, light shows
  • JazzFest Berlin, Nov 5-8, with big bands and international jazz stars

Noticeably absent from the agenda: David Hasselhoff.
[Via Toronto Sun]

Being in Berlin: Graffiti, graffiti, graffiti

One of the things you cannot not notice in Berlin is graffiti. You’d be hard-pressed to find an abandoned wall or building without it. Somehow, it works here.

Of course, there is graffiti and there is graffiti. While I hate when vandals ruin the facades of baroque building by spray-painting something on them, I have become a big fan of graffiti in Berlin. I guess you can’t underestimate the legacy of the Berlin Wall; place where graffiti street art was taken to perfection.

Check out this NY Times video piece on graffiti in Berlin to get a glimpse of what Berlin feels like today. I do think that graffiti represents well what Berlin is becoming within Germany and within Europe: an avantgarde metropolis. Rent in Berlin is cheaper than in Prague, while unemployment is 5 times as high. There is no better place for a struggling artist to live. (Oh yeah, those generous social benefits help.)

1 in 5 Germans Want The Berlin Wall Back

Here’s an interesting tidbit I heard on the radio today while driving to my favourite sushi place: 1 in 5 Germans want the Berlin Wall back. An iconic symbol of the Cold War and the divide between communism and capitalism, the Berlin Wall was broken down amidst much celebration in 1990.

And perhaps even more surprising? Those who want it back are mostly Eastern Germans. Apparently, breaking down the wall didn’t put an end to differences between the east and west in Germany; Despite the absence of a dividing line, Easterners in Germany still feel like second-class citizens compared to Westerners. And I don’t blame them — salaries in the east are 25% lower than those in the west, and unemployment rates in the west are half of that of the east. Yet despite all that, 73% of Western Germans don’t feel that Eastern Germans are at a disadvantage.

As a side note, if you want to see a movie that depicts the effects of the Berlin Wall falling, rent Goodbye Lenin — it’s excellent.