Singularity U

So I’m at the airport heading to San Jose, where I will appear tonight as a speaker at Singularity University at NASA Ames (Moffett Field) in California. I’ll be participating in a panel discussion with Pat Murphy (in person) and David Brin, Greg Benford, and Greg Bear (via video conference), talking about the feedback loop between science and science fiction. Whee!

This all came together in the last couple of days when one of the scheduled speakers had to back out at the last minute. It’s a quick one-day visit crammed in between the SFWA reading in Portland and the SFWA reading in Seattle, and it’s really quite insane for me to be doing this, but Singularity U is paying for it and it’s such an honor to be invited that I couldn’t say no.

I will be heading home tomorrow afternoon (Wednesday 7/18), but there is a possibility I might be able to do lunch tomorrow with some Bay Area friends. Drop me an email if you’d like to get involved.

Again, whee!

SFWA Pacific Northwest Reading Series: Portland July 16, Seattle area July 19

This is just a quick reminder that SFWA’s Pacific Northwest Reading Series is having its next events in the coming week!

On Monday, in Portland, we’ll have New York Times best-selling author Daniel H. Wilson, along with Rhiannon Held, whose urban fantasy novel Silver just came out last month, and Isaac Marion, author of Warm Bodies. Wrigley-Cross Books will be on hand again selling books and all the authors will be available to sign.

When: Monday, July 16, 2012, 7:00 PM – 8:30 PM
Where: McMenamins Kennedy School, 5736 N.E. 33rd Ave. Portland, OR 97211

On Thursday, in the Seattle area, we’ll have local favorite Louise Marley, along with Rhiannon Held and Isaac Marion. The University Bookstore will be selling books and all the authors will be available to sign.

When: Thursday, July 19, 2012, 7:00 PM – 8:30 PM
Where: Wild Rover Restaurant and Pub, 111 Central Way, Kirkland, WA 98033

Both events are free and open to the public.

I hope you can join us! It should be a lot of fun.

See for more information and to RSVP (not required, but encouraged).

Holy cow, I’ve sold over 50 stories!

As you can tell from yesterday’s big catch-up post, I managed to fall several months behind in updating my tracking spreadsheets and my web page. Now that I’m all caught up, I idly counted up the number of sales, and I was astonished to find that I passed 50 some time ago.

Here’s my list of sales, in approximately the order they were written:

1.  Nucleon Interzone, Year’s Best Fantasy 2, New Voices, Retro Spec, Bli-Panika (Hebrew)
2.  Babel Probe Darker Matter, Drabblecast (audio)
3.  Primates Asimov’s
4.  Fair Play Up for Grabs
5.  Rewind Writers of the Future 18
6.  Joy is the Serious Business of Heaven Realms of Fantasy
7.  Fear of Widths Land/Space, Infinity Plus, Infinity Plus Single
8.  A Passion for Art Interzone, StarShipSofa (audio)
9.  Wind from a Dying Star Bones of the World, Escape Pod (audio)
10.  The Last McDougal’s Asimov’s, Escape Pod (audio)
11.  The Tale of the Golden Eagle F&SF, Science Fiction: The Best of 2003, (audio), Bli-Panika (Hebrew), Nova Science Fiction (Swedish), F&SF Czech edition (Czech), Legendes (French, forthcoming)
12.  Zauberschrift Apprentice Fantastic, PodCastle (audio)
13.  A Book is a Journey Tales of the Unanticipated
14.  Written on the Wind Beyond the Last Star, Escape Pod (audio)
15.  Where is the Line Talebones
16.  Legacy Imagination Fully Dilated
17.  I Hold My Father’s Paws Albedo 1, Infinity Plus, Year’s Best SF 24, WRFR (audio)
18.  Tk’Tk’Tk Asimov’s, Escape Pod (audio), Asimov CF (Spanish), Nowy Fantastyka (Polish), Robot (Italian), Portii (Finnish), Bli-Panika (Hebrew), Ikarie (Czech), Helion (Romanian, forthcoming), 21st Century SF (forthcoming)
19.  Charlie the Purple Giraffe Was Acting Strangely Realms of Fantasy, Year’s Best Fantasy 5, Mammoth Book of Extreme Fantasy, Drabblecast (audio)
20.  The Ecology of Fairie Realms of Fantasy
21.  Sun Magic, Earth Magic Beneath Ceaseless Skies (text and audio)
22.  Brotherhood Haunted Holidays
23.  At the Twenty-Fifth Annual Meeting of Uncle Teco’s Homebrew Gravitics Club OryCon Program Book, Infinity Plus
24.  The True Story of Merganther’s Run (novelette) End of an Aeon
25.  The Curse of Beazoel All Hell Breaking Loose
26.  Circle of Compassion Gateways
27.  Love in the Balance All-Star Zeppelin Adventure Stories, Gears and Levers
28.  Moonlight on the Carpet Aeon
29.  Falling Off the Unicorn Space Magic
30.  Titanium Mike Saves the Day F&SF, Nebula Awards Showcase 2009, StarShipSofa (audio), The Tenth Dimension (Hebrew), Fiction (French), F&SF Czech edition (Czech)
31.  Second Chance (novella) Alembical
32.  A Little Song, A Little Dance Breaking Waves
33.  Firewall Transhuman, SF King (Chinese, unauthorized), Digital Rapture (forthcoming)
34.  Midnight at the Center Court Witch Way to the Mall
35.  Aggro Radius Gamer Fantastic
36.  Trust Daily Science Fiction
37.  The Tides of the Heart Realms of Fantasy, Heiresses of Russ 2012 (forthcoming)
38.  Meet the Stars: Launch Pad 2008 (non-fiction)
39.  Galactic Stress Diamonds in the Sky
40.  Overnight Moon Strip Mauled
41.  Teaching the Pig to Sing Analog
42.  Family Matters Fangs for the Mammaries
43.  Pupa (novelette) Analog, Into The New Millennium, StarShipSofa (audio, forthcoming), Science Fiction World (Chinese, forthcoming)
44.  Finding Joan Daily Science Fiction
45.  Powers (novelette) Wild Cards I, Wild Cards: L’origine (Italian)
46.  How the Future Predicts Science Fiction (non-fiction) IROSF
47.  horrorhouse DayBreak
48.  The White Raven’s Feather Daily Science Fiction
49.  Letter to the Editor Mad Scientists (forthcoming)
50.  Citizen-Astronaut (novelette) Analog
51.  Into the Nth Dimension Human for a Day
52.  The Last Days of the Kelly Gang Armored, Journey Into (audio, forthcoming)
53.  Liaisons Galantes: A Scientific Romance (novelette) Beneath Ceaseless Skies (forthcoming)
54.  Cry Wolf (novelette) Lowball (forthcoming)
55.  The Wreck of the Mars Adventure (novelette) Old Mars (forthcoming)

Now, not all of these are “stories” (some are non-fiction, some are flash) and not all of them sold to SFWA-qualified paying markets, but they are all SF, Fantasy, or related works, and I did get paid — or at least promised — something for each one, so I’m pretty sure that somewhere in there I’ve sold at least 50 SF and Fantasy stories. But I’m not going to try to declare which one was the 50th.

Still, ::confetti::

Now back to work on that novel…

Extremely belated writing update

I was behind in reporting my writing news even before the trip to Europe, and I got still further behind during that trip, so here’s a massive update.

I have two new sales to report:

  • Science Fantasy novelette “The Wreck of the Mars Adventure,” to anthology Old Mars, edited by Gardner Dozois and George R. R. Martin, forthcoming from Random House.

  • Fantasy novelette “Liaisons Galantes: A Scientific Romance,” to webzine Beneath Ceaseless Skies, edited by Scott H. Andrews, forthcoming Fall 2012.

(and what is is with me and italicized phrases in titles?)

I also have a bunch of reprint sales:

  • “The Last Days of the Kelly Gang,” from Armored, to podcast Journey Into, edited by Marshal Latham.

  • “The Tides of the Heart,” from Realms of Fantasy, to anthology Heiresses of Russ, edited by Sacchi Green and Steve Berman, forthcoming September 2012 from Lethe Press.

  • “Firewall,” from Transhuman, to anthology Digital Rapture, edited by James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel, forthcoming August 2012 from Tachyon Publications.

  • Hugo-winner “Tk’Tk’Tk,” from Asimov’s, to anthology 21st Century SF, edited by David G. Hartwell and Patrick Nielsen Hayden, forthcoming in 2012 from Tor.

And several of my older stories are now available for Kindle:

I was also interviewed on the SF Signal podcast.

I think that’s everything. Whew!

Wiscon ho!

So, now that we’ve been back from Europe for nearly three whole days, it’s time to get on an airplane again: we’ll be leaving tomorrow for Wiscon. Yes, this is rather insane, but it’s one of my favorite conventions and also a chance to visit my father in Milwaukee.

I’ll be appearing on the following programming items:

Fri 9:00 – 10:15PM, Senate A: Coming Out as Queer, Coming Out as a Geek
David D. Levine, Rachel Kronick, Sara Linde, Roxanne Samer
Let’s look at some of the parallels between coming out as GLBT* and coming out as a geek. Some of us have come out both as geeks and as GLBT* people. How have we used our experiences in coming out one way to help our coming out the other way?

Sat 4:00 – 5:15PM, Senate B: Short Stories vs. Novels
David D. Levine, Benjamin Billman, Richard Chwedyk, Gwynne Garfinkle, Carolyn Ives Gilman, Victoria Janssen
Some writers claim they can only write short, others insist they can only go with longer works. What are the advantages and disadvantages of each form? Should you force yourself to try the length that doesn’t seem natural for you? What benefits are there to those who can successfully write both types of story? At one time, authors were told they needed three short story sales (of the pro variety) before they should try to sell a novel. Is this true? If short isn’t your form of choice, are you just screwed?

Sun 10:00 – 11:15AM, room 623: Writing the Singularity
David D. Levine, Ruthanna Emrys, James Frenkel, Lettie Prell, Talks-with-wind
How do we write stories about life when people are no longer human? What would your characters be like? What would their conflicts be? What would their needs (if any) be? Can you write an agglomerated personality? What about a personality that had never been a biological human? Writers already have difficulty keeping up with current technologies (cell phones, for example). Will writing become even harder as technological advances continue accelerating?

Sun 2:30 – 3:45PM, room 634: Theater Improv
David D. Levine, Emily Jones, Benjamin Rosenbaum, Elizabeth Stone, Elena Tabachnick
Fascinated by theater improv? Come learn and play! Beginners will learn basic improv skills; those with experience already know how much fun it is.

Mon 10:00 – 11:15AM, Conference 5: Newly Professional Older Writers: What Helps, What Hinders
Ada Milenkovic Brown, Wendy Bradley, David D. Levine, Catherine M. Schaff-Stump
Newly professional older writers face special challenges. You need to go to cons and workshops to move forward, but it can be emotionally draining to be constantly reminded that the other people your age are the wise women of the forest and the grand viziers, while you’re still the assistant pig keeper trying to figure out how to reforge the broken sword. Your peers, the young newly professional writers, can jump higher, work faster, stay up later, and drink harder than you can. And they can actually hear the conversations in the crowded bar rooms where most writer networking takes place. Let’s discuss what helps and hinders older new writers, and create a space for older new writers at WisCon to connect with each other.

Mon 11:30AM – 12:45PM, Capitol/Wisconsin: The SignOut
Come and sign your works, come and get things signed, come and hang out and wind down before you leave.

Last Day in Europe

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This will be a brief post because the wifi keeps going up and down (annoyingly, when it’s down there’s still signal but no data, so our phones insist on trying to use it instead of the 3G).

Out of yogurt at the apartment, we set out in search of breakfast. But though this is a pretty good neighborhood for restaurants, it’s more of a bar-and-club sort of a place than a breakfast place, and most of those we found were just bars that had baked goods and coffee in the morning. We settled for a croissant and coffee, but I think the lack of a proper breakfast put me out of sorts for the rest of the day.

Today is our last day in Europe, at least for this trip. We spent the day preparing for the trip home, mostly, sorting through papers and packing and going to Kaufhaus Galerie to buy another bag (yes, we did buy a lot of souvenirs). Kate also browsed in bookstores and bought a scarf and a few other things. I wrote and mailed a few last postcards, but mostly just lazed around the apartment in a traveled-too-much stupor.

Had currywurst (Curry 61 at Alexanderplatz was better) and doner kebab for first and second lunch. FYI, “kebab” means meat grilled over or near flame, “shish” means skewer, and “doner” means rotating, so when we Americans call skewers “kabobs” we’ve got it all wrong.

Today is our 21st wedding anniversary. I got Kate a tin of mints with a VW Beetle and the words “Er lauft und lauft und lauft…” (referencing an old VW ad we’d seen at the Glass Factory, it means “it runs and runs and runs…”) and a kid’s book about a sheep, both of which I’d spotted in one of the shops in the Hackesche Hofe. She got me a bar of chocolate with walnuts and marzipan.

We had an early dinner at a Japanese noodle place nearby, called Makoto. The Japanese staff speaking a mix of German and Japanese made my head ‘splode and Japanese phrases lying dormant in my head since 2007 come spilling out. “Eigo-de daijobu desu ka?” I said, and “toide-wa doku desu ka?” I had a Ramune, the lemon drink with the glass marble closure. Our ramen soup was really exceptionally good, and I don’t think I’m just saying that because this is the first time I’ve had Japanese food in a month. After that we wandered through the neighborhood for a bit. I could come back to Venice, Vienna, or Prague but I think I’ve “done” Berlin. It’s got a lot of keen stuff, but it’s just very hard to navigate and there’s a certain negative vibe — might be leftover Nazi and Communist engrams or something.

Cab tomorrow at 4:30 AM for a long, long travel day. And then home!

Pre-History, Ancient History, and History

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Focusing on the past, in various forms, in our last few days abroad. (And why else would an American come to Europe? Oh yeah, the food.)

The music in my head this week is a continuous loop of “We Didn’t Start the Fire” by Billy Joel, “The Book” by Sheryl Crow (the one with “three days in Rome” in the chorus), and “DDR” by Tom Robinson. For obvious reasons.

Wednesday 5/16

After our usual breakfast (yogurt with muesli in the apartment, cafe au lait at the cafe downstairs) we took the S-Bahn to Nordbahnhof to see the exhibit on “ghost stations” there. We had a bit of trouble finding the exhibit, but it was well worth it. This has long been a fascinating detail to us of the division of Berlin. The East Germans closed off the station entrances completely, then built little police boxes on top, concealing stairs down to the security bunker inside the station (thus: bigger on the inside).

From there we took a long hike through very-much-under-construction streets to the Naturkunde museum, with giant dinosaur skeletons (and pseudo-augmented-reality goggles to put flesh on them), a keen exhibit on mammoths and elephants, and giant (2-3′) insect models from the 1930s. We are trying to focus on only the best stuff in each museum and then move on — we have a museum card so there’s no need to “get our money’s worth” and there’s a real danger of museum burnout. The museum’s neighborhood did not have a huge selection of restaurants. We settled on an Indian place, Swadi, and it was okay.

We traveled from the Naturkunde museum (which, by the way, was flattened in 1945 and not rebuilt until about 2006 — it still shows blast scars) to Berlin’s Museum Island, which is where the city’s greatest museums have been concentrated since the 1800s. We intended to hit the Neues Museum, then the Pergamon, but the first bridge we crossed took us right into the Pergamon and there was no way to get from there to the Neues without leaving the island so we visited that one first.

Here, as many other museums in Germany, we encountered a frustrating lack of signage, maps, and other directional information (the generic museum names, which translate to such things as “New Museum” and “Painting Gallery,” don’t help either) but OMG the STUFF!! The Pergamon has the largest single objects I have ever seen in a museum (for some value of “single object”), including the ceramic Ishtar Gate with its lions and dragons. What an astonishing statement of power! And the Neues Museum features the famous head of Nefertiti that you’ve seen so many times in photos. But these are only the most impressive and famous bits. Everywhere you go there are amazing historical artifacts. Even the museum itself is a fabulous artifact, with its frescoes and ornaments as well as its war damage on proud display.

That was a full day of museuming, so we walked home, stopping for gelato at Amorino, banh mi at CoCo, and a few groceries on the way. Back home, we ate our banh mi (which was quite good) and napped for an hour before our 9:00 PM appointment at the Reichstag. For, indeed, my Internet adventures on Tuesday had paid off and we were going to see the seat of the united German goverment.

The Reichstag was very cool, the dome of glass and mirrors and its spiral ramp quite impressive, offering great views of the city as the sun set. It was cold, though — the dome is open to the outside air. But still, this democratic institution governing unified Germany shows that things do sometimes get better, that there is cause for hope.

Also, we saw someone blowing giant bubbles in front of Brandenburger Tor.

Thursday 5/17

As we’ve done in several other cities, today Kate and I took a day apart. For my part I headed down to Alexanderplatz and walked from there to Checkpoint Charlie, stopping at several points along the way to visit a museum or smash a penny or two. I encountered a lot of construction — the Rathaus (city hall) was surrounded by dug-up earth and was apparently completely closed, though there was no signage indicating why. (Later we learned that today is Himmelfahrt, or Ascension Day, so the government and many businesses were closed.)

At the Marienkirche, the famous Dance of Death fresco was nearly invisible, but to me the figures of Death looked more like alien Greys. Even spookier, perhaps?

Spending more time than usual in highly-touristed areas, I encountered many slim women with headscarves who all approached with the same question: “Do you speak English?” Something about them put my guard up so I just shook my head and moved on. I suspect they were beggars and/or pickpockets.

I found myself at the entrance of the Altes Museum and decided to use my musem pass to pop in and see what they had. Turns out the person who sold us the pass forgot to change the stamp, stamping it with the previous date, and then corrected it in pen — which made it look as though I had altered my pass to make it valid for an extra day. The ticket clerk let me in anyway, but I decided I wouldn’t try using the pass again.

The Altes Museum specializes in Greek, Roman, and Etruscan statuary — more naked and half-naked marble people in one place than I’ve seen in a long time, including a beautiful rotunda with all the Greek gods and a truly stunning Athena. Also an amazing little mosaic, about two feet by three, composed of cubes of stone (in their natural colors!) about two millimeters square.

I had a walking lunch of bratwurst from a sidewalk vendor as I traveled, and noted that “Hallo” is the standard greeting in Berlin even when Germans meet Germans.

At Checkpoint Charlie, I found an informative wall display… behind which someone had set up “Charlie’s Beach,” a large area of sand with beach chairs, palm trees, and food and drink for sale. Didn’t work real well under overcast skies with temperatures in the fifties. There was lots of other tourist kitsch nearby, including a McDonalds. Annoying, but I’d rather have a McDonalds than Soviet and American tanks facing each other down across the German-German border. The name Charlie, by the way, represents the fact that it was the third checkpoint for Westerners traveling to East Berlin: Checkpoint Alpha was at the West German/East German border, Checkpoint Bravo at the East German/West Berlin border, and Checkpoint Charlie at the West Berlin/East Berlin border.

A couple of blocks from Checkpoint Charlie is an excellent, free exhibit called The Topography of Terror, located atop the ruins of the old Stasi headquarters. I took about two hours to read the whole chronological wall — about three Portland blocks long, with photos and text — chronicling the rise of the Nazis, WWII, and the beginning of the Cold War as seen in Berlin. This is the summary of 1930s-50s history I’d been needing for some time. The exhibit also includes some information about the Wall and considerable information about the Gestapo and Stasi, which I skipped due to lack of time and energy.

From there I headed home, with a brief stop at Potsdamer Platz to check out a large, festive flea market. Probably that too is for Himmelfahrt.

We had a lovely German dinner at a place near our apartment called Botzow-Privat, which looks as though it’s essentially unchanged since some time in the 1800s. Wiener schnitzel (not too big) with fried potatoes for me, kasespaetzele for Kate, apple strudel for dessert, yum. Soon we’ll be back home and eating more sensibly.

Even though the restaurant was only about five blocks from our apartment, we took a different route there and back and saw some nice little parks, alleys, and shops we had not seen in the five days we’ve been here. Also, as we approached our apartment building from a different direction, I saw that our apartment — which is quite narrow — is actually the full width of the building. Looks like they shoehorned a six-story apartment building onto a piece of land that formerly held, what, a little corner shop?

Tonight has been a quiet evening of blogging and sorting our stuff. Tomorrow will be largely dedicated to getting ready for the trip home (we leave at oh-dark-early Saturday morning).

Three Days in Berlin

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Sunday 5/13

Awoke in Dresden, had another fabulous Hildegard von Bingen breakfast, and had the hotel van take us to the train station. In the bathroom at the station, a guy in full plate armor came clanking out of the next stall, no shit swear to God. We bought baguettes at Crobag (Croissant + Baguette — ugly name, pretty good sandwiches) to eat on the train.

Then… Berlin!

The Berlin Hauptbahnhof (main train station) is huge, modern, multi-level, shiny, crowded — this is The Big City! We’re hearing a lot more languages and accents and seeing a lot more colors of people on the street than we did in any previous city, even Vienna. It took us a while to even get out of the station, what with fighting crowds everywhere, standing in line at the TI to buy transit passes, and stopping at a grocery store in the station for tomorrow’s breakfast (concerned that neighborhood stores might not be open on Sunday, though this didn’t prove to be a huge problem). We took a taxi to our hotel, actually an apartment (Apartmenthaus Karlito), picked up the key in the cafe downstairs, and moved in. It’s a nice little place, clean and bright, with a tub, kitchen, plenty of elbow room, but alas no laundry facilities.

Our first stop after getting settled was the Flomarkt am Mauerpark (Flea Market at the Berlin Wall Park), a Saturday-Sunday thing not too far from our apartment. It was a HUMUNGOUS flea market, like a 300-family rummage sale with food stands (we had a savory “pastry snail” from a busy Turkish vendor) and eight bouncy castles. It just went on and on and on. And they do this every weekend?

Overwhelmed, we walked toward the nearby U-Bahn (subway) station, which had been a “ghost” station before the Wall fell. This was one of the stations on the East side of the wall that West Berlin subway trains ran through without stopping. They were boarded up, guarded, and went completely unchanged from 1961 to 1989. But just before we got there we encountered the Ost-West Cafe (so called because it’s near the former Wall, also because it features Turkish and German cuisine) and decided to stop for coffee. It was really crowded, a good sign, and the food options looked good, so we ordered dinner: juicy chicken skewers with grilled potatoes and vegetables for me, tortellini in yogurt sauce and red lentil soup for Kate.

After dinner, we walked past the Berlin Wall Memorial (but did not have time to give it the attention it deserved) and into the station, which is now active but looks rather old-fashioned. Then back to the apartment for a quiet evening of plotting out our Berlin touristing and doing some wash in the sink. Oh the glamour.

Monday 5/14

Awake 8:00 (but both of us were awake for a while in the night – no more coffee after 2:00 PM for me!). We had yogurt with muesli and honey in the room for breakfast, then a very nice cafe au lait at the cafe downstairs (which is also the hotel front desk, to the extent we have one).

We’d had ambitious plans to start at the zoo, work eastward following Rick Steves’ touristing plan, and hit the Reischstag early before the crowds got too terrible. But as it was past 9:30 by the time we finished our coffee, this was clearly not going to work. Instead we took the U-Bahn to the Wall memorial we hadn’t had the energy for yesterday, then to the Underground Berlin tour office, planning to get tickets for the 1:00 tour. However, tickets for the 11:00 AM tour were available, so we jumped on that. Having an hour to kill before our tour, we spent the time at a nearby mall, getting cash from an ATM and browing in a bookstore and Real (a variety store rather like Target, where Kate bought a washcloth — for some reason, most hotels here do not provide washcloths).

Our Underground tour was most unlike the Underground tours we’ve taken in Seattle and Pendleton. This one was a tour of a WWII air raid shelter, one of the few still in existence, now fitted out as a museum. Our excellent tour guide gave a great overview of how the shelter was built and used as well as general information about life in Berlin during the war. He didn’t stint on difficult details, such as the fact that the shelters were built by slave labor and that every remaining male in the city was pressed into service (on pain of death if they refused) for the final defense of Berlin, thousands of old men and boys sacrificed in a battle that everyone knew was pointless. A very informative and interesting tour, if somewhat depressing.

We took the S-Bahn (light rail) one stop, then U-Bahn one stop to a restaurant called Zum Schusterjungen for a “DDR-style” lunch. It felt strange to take two trains just one stop each, but that would have been a 30-minute walk; this is a BIG city. Maybe it’s because we didn’t sleep well last night, but I feel like we’re kind of running on fumes here, and Berlin is not the town to take it easy. We ordered schnitzel with spargel (asparagus — it’s spargel season, it’s on every menu, we can’t evade it) for Kate, “farmer’s breakfast” (omelet with fried potatoes, onions, a bit of bacon) for me, quite nice. “Not much bacon in that omelet,” said Kate. “Well, you can’t go to a restaurant that offers East German cuisine and complain about the lack of meat…”

After lunch we headed to the famous Brandenberg Gate, taking a tram to Alexanderplatz, then bus to Brandenberg Tor. But at Alexanderplatz I noticed that we were right near the base of the big Fernsehturm (East Germany’s answer to the Space Needle) and went looking for the penny-smashing machine that was supposed to be there. We found two machines at the base of the tower, another at a souvenir shop nearby. It wasn’t easy to find our bus stop at sprawling Alexanderplatz, but eventually we found it and made our way to Brandenberg Tor. We knew it was an important historic site because we saw Mickey Mouse in a Jedi robe and many other costumed characters, mimes, street vendors, and other such individual enterpreneurs there to bilk the tourists.

The Reichstag was nearby, so we walked over to check out the line. Hey, the line isn’t too bad, let’s go in! Well, it turned out that the line was short because they have changed the system: you now have to make a reservation online beforehand (and it’s booked up for three days in advance, six weeks for a guided tour). I tried a couple of times from my phone, but the website kept erroring out.

We walked down Unter Den Linden, which was Berlin’s Broadway before the War, was entirely on the East side of the Wall under Communism, and is now busy and mostly under construction. Kate visited here in 1981, before the Wall fell, and says that at that time there was essentially no one here. We found another penny machine at a souvenir shop on Under Den Linden, but the one at Madame Tussaud’s was gone. The bookstore Berlin Story now has a 5 euro charge for its small museum and film, but we paid it for a chance to sit down. Not a bad little museum actually, but I didn’t really have the brain to appreciate it.

Kate and I may be the only people outside of Germany who have a fondness for the Trabant, East Germany’s cheap little two-stroke car. This is because we saw the movie Go Trabi Go! right before a trip to France during which we nicknamed our rented Peugot “Trabi.” So, even though we’d never before seen a Trabant in the flesh, we were thrilled that there was one in the museum that you could actually sit in. Man, what a piece of junk!

When I was a teenager I believed that the Communists were not as evil as they were portrayed, that it was simply a different economic system and that they were demonized by the US for propaganda purposes. After what I’ve seen in museums here and in Prague, I now believe that they really were that bad. Clearly there was a reason that so many people risked their lives (and often lost them) trying to escape.

While Kate was shopping in the Berlin Story bookstore I tried again to reserve a visit to the Reichstag, trying the German site since the English site seemed to be having consistent errors. I did get through to submit a request, and after several CAPTCHAs and web forms and an exchange of emails I managed to get a reservation for 9:00 PM Wednesday. It’s supposed to be quite something.

I also used the Time Out Berlin app on my phone (it’s free!) to locate a good restaurant nearby. “Cafe No!” is the one restaurant in a couple of blocks of monolithic government buildings, a character-filled little bistro that emphasizes wine but also has a few food offerings. Kate had Maultaschen (German ravioli, sort of) and I had Flammkuchen (German pizza, sort of) which seemed to be the house specialty, and oh heavens was it good. It would be hard not to be good with sour cream, bacon, and onions, but even so it was particularly fine, with a delicate thin crust and a smokey flavor. I balanced that out with a “vitamin schpritz”: freshly pressed carrot, apple, and orange juice with fizzy water, a twist of lemon, and honey, very nice.

After dinner, we were glad to find that the U2 subway ran straight from a stop very near the restaurant to a stop very near the hotel, so no long walks and no transfers, huzzah. We stopped at a corner market for some yogurt for breakfast, fell over for an hour or so, got up to write up some notes, then fell over again.

Tuesday 5/15

Awake 8:00-ish, yogurt for breakfast, out the door 9:00-ish. After the last few days of man’s inhumanity to man (Nazis or Communists, take your pick, Berlin has plenty of both) we wanted to look at some pretty pictures, so we headed to the neighborhood of Schloss Charlottenburg, about an hour away by transit, for a group of three museums nearby. Even with two iPhone apps to help, there were way too many transit options and we finally settled on a route that was perhaps less efficient than it might have been but involved fewer transfers than the others. Even so we had some difficulty finding the stop for our bus (I think we wound up taking a different bus than we’d planned because we happened to find ourselves at its stop).

One thing about Berlin: it’s an interesting mix of pre-War, post-War, and post-Reunification architecture. As we look around we have been really noticing the few 1800s and 1900s buildings, buildings of a type that are the vast majority in Vienna and Prague. Dresden was completely flattened in 1945 and has rebuilt only a few key buildings in the old style, so that it gives a generally newish appearance that feels very normal to an American. But Berlin has saved or reconstructed enough old buildings that you can’t help but realize that it’s an old city that has lost more than 90% of its architectural heritage. And there are construction cranes everywhere.

Our first museum today was the Scharf-Gerstenberg, focusing on the surrealists. It had fine examples of Klee, Ernst, Magritte, and Dali, also Hans Bellmer whom I’d never heard of before but whom I liked, and a sometimes-over-informative audio guide. In another area, the former stables of Schloss Charlottenburg, were proto-surrealist works by Goya and Piranesi and a huge Egyptian gateway. As the audio guide said, “what could be more surreal than a giant Ancient Egyptian monument in the middle of an art gallery?” but in fact the reason it’s here is that this building was the temporary home of the Egyptian Museum while it was being renovated, and though the renovations are complete there’s still no room in the new space for this huge piece. It will be moved to its final home when the Egyptian Museum’s fourth wing is finished, in 2025.

For lunch we had a simple sandwich and soup at a nearby bakery/cafe called Back Zeit or some such. Then we headed to the second museum, the Berggruen, which features Picasso, Cezanne, and Klee but was, alas, closed for renovations. So we headed to the third museum, the Brohan, with its fine collection of Art Nouveau (AKA Jugendstil) and Art Deco furniture, lamps, tea sets, and suchlike. I love this style so much, with both Nouveau and Deco combining natural and mechanical forms, and it’s a shame that it was only really in fashion for a decade or so.

By that point we had completely hit the wall, so we dragged ourselves back to the apartment and fell unconscious for about two hours. We have been touristing very, very hard for the past three and a half weeks, not to mention the emotional burden of all those Nazis and Communists, and we’re definitely getting kind of crispy around the edges. We rested in the apartment for the remainder of the afternoon, until it got kind of dinner-time-ish.

We walked a ways to the Hackesche Hofe, a collection of connected courtyards housing many delightful little shops, and browsed there for a while before deciding to head out in search of dinner. We investigated several restaurants, but we decided that what we really wanted was to eat what native Berliners eat, which is currywurst and doner kebap. Currywurst, at least the way we had it, is a curried sausage, cut up and drowned in a curry sauce, served with French fries (which are in turn drowned with ketchup and mayonnaise), and eaten with a little wooden fork, and it was disturbingly tasty. Doner kebap is kind of like gyros, but Turkish rather than Greek, served in a quarter-flatbread with a variety of sauces and condiments, and also very good in a not-good-for-you way. These are the local equivalent of the ubiquitous American burger-and-fries and we couldn’t possibly leave Berlin without having tried them. “I can really see the appeal,” says Kate.

It was beginning to rain then, so after a brief stop at a bakery for some bread for tomorrow’s breakfast we headed back to the apartment for a quiet evening.

Maybe we’ll take it a little easier tomorrow. (Ha.)

Now for the photos, though I haven’t been taking a lot of photos in Berlin (100 photos from Dresden and Berlin combined so far, vs. 500 in Prague and over 1000 in the Czech towns). With the streets so crowded there haven’t been a lot of good opportunities to haul out the camera and take a moment for the right shot. Also the light has generally been terrible. Also we’ve been spending a lot of time in museums and other spaces that don’t allow photography. Also most of Berlin, interesting though it is, is not terribly photogenic. Berlin is one of the most heavily graffiti’d places I’ve ever been. I don’t know if the graffiti on the Wall is a cause of this or a symptom of it, but there’s hardly a wall, bank machine, or lamp post that isn’t completely covered with scrawls (generally ugly and inartistic, to my eye) in marker and spray paint. Even the bathrooms of quite nice restaurants are a riot of graffiti. Still, I did find a few nice shots, so here they are.


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Our Dresden hotel, the Hotel Privat (AKA Das Hotel Nichtrauscher AKA The Non-Smoking Hotel) is lovely in every way except that it is a little further away from the city center than our previous hotels — a bit of a hike to the nearest tram stop, and that tram doesn’t connect directly to much of anything. But it has the best breakfast spread we’ve seen yet, including American-style bacon, 2 kinds of scrambled eggs, 3 kinds of sausage, lox, chocolate quark (yummy), and Hildegard von Bingen’s Dinkel-Habermus (hot spelt cereal) with a selection of toppings including flax seed, chestnut meal, and “bertram” (Anacyclus pyrethrum, AKA pellitory, Spanish chamomile, or Mount Atlas daisy — didn’t taste like much but it’s supposed to be good for you). Google Translate insists that Dinkel means “spelled” and had no idea what “bertram” was — it took quite a bit of web research to track that one down.

Perhaps because of our slightly-away-from-downtown location, perhaps because Dresden was bombed to bits in 1945 and remained in the loving lack-of-care of the Communists for over 40 years therafter, we’ve been seeing a lot more ratty-looking buildings here than elsewhere. I’ve been noticing that a particular feature of our neighborhood is the obviously-closed-for-many-years kiosk (you know, the kind that sells newspapers, cigarettes, and candy), which I suppose is an economic niche that just collapsed some time ago. On the other hand, there is tons of new construction and renovation going on.

Just about everything here, no matter how old it looks, was completely flattened in 1945 and rebuilt afterwards (in some cases quite recently). Dresden raises interesting questions of “what is ‘real,’ anyway?” and “if they could rebuild the Frauenkirche in four years, why did it take 50 years to finish the National Cathedral in Washington DC?” (I think the answer to the latter question may be “because they didn’t have to spend any time arguing about the design.”)

Our first stop today was the Residenz (the big castle complex of the princes of Saxony) and its famous Green Vault. We hadn’t known a lot about it going in, but everything we read assured us it was not to be missed, and the fact that the only admission was via timed tickets was confirmation of that. So we showed up a half-hour before the ticket booth opened, and waited as the mob of people awaiting tickets grew and grew. Because of our position at the head of the mob we got tickets to the first admission at 10:00.

Oh. My. Freaking. Gawd. What an amazing collection of Stuff. The Green Vault is the treasury of the Electors of Saxony, especially Augustus the Strong, who collected the absolute best and most valuable items from all over Europe for a couple hundred years. Highlights included an entire room of carved ivory objects (concentric spheres, chains, delicate twining columns, etc.), dozens of objects carved from rock crystal as fine and smooth and clear as blown glass, a pair of drinking vessels depicting the celestial and terrestrial globes that moved across the dining table under their own power (clockwork?), a huge allegorial bas-relief made entirely of semiprecious stones, cups and ewers assembled from translucent amber slices, sculptures of gold and silver built around ostrich eggs and nautilus shells, delightful miniature court scenes, and a room with millions of dollars in gems including a unique green diamond the size of a walnut. All of it definitely over the top, but most of it in something resembling good taste.

The treasury rooms themselves, the Historical Green Vault, are beautiful and valuable, and that’s the part of the exhibit that requires timed tickets (and no coats or bags, and passage through a double-doored airlock). After seeing all that, we stopped for lunch at the nearby Paulaner bierstube, offering Munich cuisine (weisswurst and schweinshaxen), then returned to see the rest of the Residenz. We saw the New Green Vault, which has fewer objects than the Historical but arranged in a modern museum-style display so you can see all sides of them, the Gallery of the Electors with portraits and busts of the princes of Saxony going back two hundred years, and the Turkish Room with armor and tents either looted from the Turks or designed to look like it.

The Residenz has an excellent collection and informative signage on the exhibits, crap directional signage, and no maps at all, either on paper or on the wall. This led to a long, frustrating search for the Fuerstenzug, a thing we had been told we really should see but which wasn’t on any of the signs and for which we got varying and confusing directions from various museum employees. Turned out it wasn’t part of the museum at all, but was outdoors on a long wall a couple blocks away. It was a gigantic (maybe one and a half football fields long) tile mural depicting a mounted procession of the Electors of Saxony, beginning in the 1500s and going up to about 1880, each in characteristic costume for their era and with a collection of hangers-on. I’m afraid it reminded me more than anything else of the opening sequence of “Peabody’s Improbable History,” but it was definitely worth the trip.

There was more to the Residenz, but by then we were pretty fed up with the difficulty of finding things within it, so we hit the bookstore and then headed off to Dresden’s Technical Museum. This museum, housed in a former camera factory, is mostly focused on the history of photographic, sound, and computer technology, especially those bits of it manufactured in Dresden. The photography and sound exhibits are nicely laid out and labeled (all in German), but the computer section was basically just a large room with hundreds of typewriters, calculators, and computers in roughly chronological order (nonetheless, I think I liked that part best). Okay, now I believe we’re in former East Germany. Almost all of the gadgets on display were from brands I’ve never heard of, some of them looking distinctly Soviet.

One of the coolest bits was the typewriter display, which included the Mercedes Addelektra, an electric-powered wide-carriage machine having a large receiver spool behind the device (obviously it was designed to type on a continuous roll), a separate numeric keyboard below the main one, and a bunch of little movable odometers ranged along the top of the keyboard. It looks to me as though you could set it up to automatically total the values you typed in each column. Kind of a primitive mechanical version of Excel. Another, extremely old, typewriter typed on the back of the paper, so you wouldn’t know what you’d typed until you were done with the page. In a recent episode of The Amazing Race, the racers had to transcribe some text on a manual typewriter, and part of the challenge was figuring out to type a lowercase L for the numeral 1. We laughed at Those Kids Today, but I must confess that some of those old machines would be just as daunting to me.

The museum also included a large display of computers from the Robotron company (it’s still in business), and the name made me snort every time I saw it. “In your struggle to save humanity, be careful to avoid electrodes in your path!” And at the top of the building, for some reason, was a six-story observation tower with a very cool spiral staircase and a view of the museum’s residential/industrial neighborhood.

We had a bit of a snack at the museum cafe, then headed back to our hotel for a nap, but we decided to stop for dinner at the place we changed trams. It was a hip, happenin’ neighborhood of mostly fast food and bars… there must be a university nearby. We wound up at Reise-Kneipe, a “travelers’ bar” with an international menu, where I had a “fruity cashew-lentil curry” and Kate an assortment of “international tapas,” both very nice. The only downside was that they left the door open; it’s been a chill, gray day, though at least the threatened rain never fell.

After dinner we walked to the nearby train station (the closest one to our hotel) in search of information about tomorrow’s train. We determined that this station does not have any trains to Berlin except very early in the morning, but we were able to buy tickets from the machine for a train tomorrow at a convenient time from the main train station. After that we went back to the hotel and fell over. Tomorrow, Berlin!