Monday, May 9, 2011


I’ve been traveling alone since Monday, 2 May. Monday-Wednesday I was in Berlin.

Absurdities of the human race

Berlin has a  very unique history, and it has made me realize some absurdities of us humans.

The guy is selling visas.. to East Germany!

The wall. This one is obvious. Being walled in yet able to travel around (if you were a West Berliner), by your own countrymen...

Nuclear bunkers. I took a great tour of a nuclear bunker (which can be accessed by secrete doors in the U-bahn, so next time you go on the T....).

The guide described the interesting psychological problems of being a bunker guard (how do you pick when to lock the last person out?), eating (canned soup, anyone?), sleeping (you’re constantly sleeping in sweat because of the high humidity levels and poor ventilation). and dying (the body bags were see-through, because colored ones don’t last more than 50 years).

All this made the guide ask, why would anyone ever do this? Maybe some people rather just die in a nuclear armaggedon?

At this point, I talked to a fellow tourist from the UK. She informed me that during the Cold War, the fear of nuclear war was indeed real, and her husband even bought euthanasia pills for her and her kids... just in case.

Berlin’s city planning

Berlin’s got an awesome backbone railway system, that allows for one central railway station (contrast with Paris’ 5 or so major stations, one for each direction). It has 2 levels of tracks going in perpendicular directions, and is Europe’s largest station. Very impressive.

As well, it seems like 50% of historical sites I wanted to go to were closed due to construction. For example, there was the Kaiser memorial church I wanted to go to.

But this was the only thing I could find!

Apparently, they are doing restoration work on the church, so the big modern building on the left of the previous photo is actually the church- enclosed for restoration work.

 Other than that, Berlin is a wonderful mix of different architecture: for example, soviet-era Karl Marx Allee, 18th century Konzerthaus, and the modern home of the Berlin Philharmonic.

User oriented museum design

I went to some confusing museums in Berlin. As well as modern art exhibits, and musical concerts.
With all these examples, there’s somethign fundamentally missing: context.

Let’s take the Berlin museum

I didn’t have time to read an article of Berlin before coming here, so I went to the museum, hoping to gain some historical context into he city. But the subject jumped around, focusing on interesting, but detailed subjects (do you know about the Humboldt family?). Which is fine, as long as one understands the larger picture (as in the overview history of Berlin), which I assume most tourists don’t. When I told the the kind owner, who asked me for feedback, about this, his response was telling: “Oh I never realized that! It seemed to me obvious for us Berliners what the overall history of Berlin is!”.

The same goes with modern art galleries. Tourists can stare and appear sophisticated, or they can really be informed about why this piece of art is unique, special, and important. Maybe then the gallery will sell more art. Just look at how context shaped my view of An Wei Wei.
I think museum curators and artists just take this for granted. Because it comes naturally to them, they assume it comes naturally to everyone.

And with classical music... a program that just lists a biography of the artist’s life is not really context...

This is why this trip has deepened my appreciation for history- because it provides context! Which reminds me.... I should probably read up on the history of Boston. And Needham. And Olin, and engineering, and … blogging!

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