29 March 2006

The other side of the country

BerlinBear avatarI'm back in Trier for a few days. In my absence, they've had a change of state government. I'll try to knock a proper post about it together later in the day.

25 March 2006

Replica stadium coming to Berlin

BerlinBear avatarGermany is in the grip of World Cup fever. Barely a day passes here without some new story about the upcoming World Cup, whether it's doubt about the safety of the stadiums, concern about the abilities of the German national team, a tabloid-led campaign against Jürgen Klinsmann - the national coach, or controversy over how the army could be used to beef up security during the World Cup. (For historical reasons, Germans are very jumpy about any domestic military activity at all).

This week's big story, here in Berlin at least, was the announcement that Adidas plans to build a replica of the Berlin stadium, the Olympiastadion, as well as a surrounding "soccer park", on the lawn in front of the German parliament. Built on a scale of 1:3.3, the mini-stadium will seat around 10,000 fans, who will be able to watch games on giant screens and generally soak up the World Cup atmosphere, despite not having been able to gain tickets to the actual matches. It's apparently going to look something like the computer-generated image on the right. According to Deutsche Welle, tickets to the soccer park will cost just €1 and to the replica stadium itself just €3, with that money going to charity.
All 64 World Cup games are to be broadcast on giant screens on the grounds at the Reichstag. Adidas expects up to 70,000 visitors per day.

Yet the action will not be limited to passive spectating. Around the stadium, soccer fields will be set up. Tournaments are supposed to be held. Schools are encouraged to take field trips to the park and play soccer. Also, no World Cup in Germany would be complete without a beer garden. The public in general should have a good time.

Even on those few days when soccer players and fans have the day off from the tournament, the mini-stadium will host concerts. US hip-hop group "The Black Eyed Peas" are scheduled for June 28. English singer-songwriter James Blunt is scheduled to perform on July 7.

Sounds like a good idea to me. I might just have to head along and check it out when the time comes.

; ; ;

Good news Saturday

BerlinBear avatarIt's been a long hiatus for Good news Saturday, but it's back. Today's good news comes from Africa, specifically Nigeria.

It has been announced that the Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo (what a great name!) has agreed to hand over the former Liberian President, Charles Taylor, to the Liberian authorities. Taylor has been living in exile in Nigeria since he stood down as the leader of Liberia in 2003. He is wanted by the UN-backed war crimes tribunal in Sierra Leone to stand trial for crimes committed during the Liberian civil war, which began in 1987. Until now, the Nigerian president had refused to hand Taylor over. His change of tack today comes in response to a formal request from the newly elected Liberian president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.

It it thought that the Liberian authorities will send Mr Taylor straight to Sierra Leone to stand trial, once they have him in custody.

Good news for justice, good news for human rights.

BBC News and Reuters have all the details.

; ; ; ;

New Zealand in the news

BerlinBear avatarNew Zealand has made the BBC News website once more, and as usual it's for something weird. This story details how a man was caught speeding in the NZ town of Papamoa. Nothing unusual or weird about that, of course, except that the guy didn't have a driver's licence or, umm, any arms. He was using one foot to steer and one to accelerate. Interesting tactc.

The best part of the story is this quote from Senior Sergeant Diedre Lack about the incident:
Obviously, driving at a speed like that, arms or not, you're just waiting for an accident.
Ha! The speed in question was 121km/h. She ought to come to Germany, where noone drives at under that speed, unless they're just waiting for an accident.

One day, New Zealand will make the pages of the BBC News website for a story that is neither weird nor embarrassing. I live in hope.


23 March 2006

Question for ya

BerlinBear avatarIn what may or may not become a regular instalment here at The Capital Letter, this is the bit where I get to ask a question of my readers and you get to help me by enabling me to cure my ignorance just a little bit, one step at a time. The title, for what it's worth, comes courtesy of Miss Behaviour, who claims to have had a friend in High School who prefaced all his questions with "Question for ya" - just so there would be no doubt. True or apocryphal, I don't know, but it makes a cracking title for a post like this.

Anyhow ... today's question is directly related to the possible (fingers crossed) onset of Spring.

Near where Miss Behaviour and I live in Berlin, there are a number of lakes. Two of these lakes are the two
Wannsees, a large one and a small one, imaginatively named Großer Wannsee and Kleiner Wannsee, respectively. You can see them both clearly in this image from Wikipedia.

Yesterday, I went for a walk along to the two Wannsees and discovered that while the smaller of the two has completely thawed from its previous frozen state, the Großer Wannsee is still almost completely frozen over. Thus, whereas this sculler can already train freely on the Kleiner Wannsee ...

Image hosting by Photobucket

... this tour boat is still frozen in, barely 100m away as the crow flies.

Image hosting by Photobucket

The ice of the Großer Wannsee gives way to the open water of the Kleiner Wannsee just before the bridge under which the two lakes join. As a result, whereas the gull in the background is standing on the ice, the ducks in the foreground are paddling in the water.

Image hosting by Photobucket

In the fading light as dusk approaches, the two lakes look like this:

Image hosting by Photobucket

Kleiner Wannsee, completely thawed

Image hosting by Photobucket

Großer Wannsee, still almost completely frozen over

Which brings me, finally, to my question for ya: why is that? How can that be? The lakes are joined together; they are located right alongside each other; the weather affecting one is the same as the weather affecting the other. So why the significant difference in thaw speeds? And why does the smaller lake thaw first?

If anyone with a clearer understanding of physics and meteorology than I (not hard) can shed some light on that for me, I should be most appreciative.

; ; ; ;

Good news from Iraq for once

BerlinBear avatarWow! This is good news: three hostages, one Briton and two Canadians have been freed in Iraq after four months in captivity.

Jolly good show. More of the same for the dozens thousands of hostages still held in Iraq, please.


22 March 2006

Thank heavens!

BerlinBear avatarGermany won. Germany 4 - USA 1. The world will not end tonight. What a relief!

Not a very good game though. Still, you can't have your cake and eat it.


Incidentally ...

BerlinBear avatar... if I am not here tomorrow, and there is no news coming out of Germany, it will be because the German football team will have lost to the United States in this evening's game and the world will have ended.

Thought you should know, just in case.

Impending doom is explained much more carefully and less cryptically by Paul at A Berlin Diary.


Postbote Pat

BerlinBear avatarAs a kid, I was a big fan of the children's television show Postman Pat. That childhood enthusiasm was nourished in my late teens and early twenties when I was a regular at Murphy's Irish Bar, whose house band The Dog's Bollix (mentioned in this recent post) had the theme song from Postman Pat as their signature tune.

Given that, imagine my surprise and throwback-to-childhood delight when this BBC article was brought to my attention yesterday. It seems that Postman Pat's black and white cat, Jess, is getting his own spin-off show. Sounds like fun. And better still, according to the article, the original Postman Pat is set to be aired in on German television soon, under the incredibly inventive title
Postbote Pat.

It's enough to make you wish you were a kid again.
[Hat-tip to Hildypants for the heads-up]


21 March 2006

Maybe, just maybe

BerlinBear avatarI'm almost afraid to say this out loud, lest I jinx anything, so I shall just whisper it very softly.

I think maybe, just maybe, after a very long and frankly bloody cold five months of Winter, Spring might finally be springing here in Berlin.



Spamming spies

BerlinBear avatarThis little gem was in my work email inbox when I logged on this morning. It amused me so much to be addressed as if I were the head of MI5, that I thought I'd share. Needless to say, there is not an M in my work email address, nor had I expressed any interest in anything whatsoever, least of all anything offered by Mach90 Independent Group.
Hello M ,

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M , you need to understand something. This opportunity has already spread to over 100 countries in less than two years. Thousands of people have recognized the potential.

By activating your account you will receive real-time email notifications about your new business. WARNING: Due to an overwhelming worldwide interest in Mach90, you may receive multiple daily emails as your business develops:


Best Regards,

Jerry Bataluna
Mach90 Independent Group Member

If you haven't recently expressed interest in Mach90, simply
click below to be removed from Mach90's mailing list:
You can contact us by mail: Blk 4 Lot 16 EastLand Village
Yati, Liloan 6002 Philippines
 Those are the contact details provided in the email. Feel free to spam them. Say hi from me.


20 March 2006

Happy birthday, belatedly

BerlinBear avatar So it turns out that The Capital Letter turned one year old yesterday, and I missed its birthday. Oops! Best wishes, belatedly, for a very happy birthday, blog. Sorry to have neglected you on your special day.

When I first started blogging, over at tBlog, I had no idea whether I would be a flash-in-the-pan blogger, or would be in it for the long haul. It turns out I'm in it for the medium haul at the very least. Though things have slowed down considerably in recent months, I'm still enjoying it, and still have every intention of keeping going.

I read somewhere recently that over 80% of blogs that are picked up by the blog indexing and search tool technorati die before the three month mark. So in those terms, The Capital Letter is already a veteran. I may not be the most prolific blogger, the most controversial blogger, or even the most interesting blogger out there, but I've stuck at it, so far, and I'd like to think I've written at least a few posts worth reading in the course of the last year. (There's been some dross too, I'm the first to admit, but you have to take the rough with the smooth, don't you?)

Thanks to all my readers and commenters who keep coming back. A few of you (*cough* Lindy, Kiwi in Zurich) have been here since the very beginning, others have joined the journey somewhere further down the line. It's always nice to hear from you and to get your opinions and feedback on what I have to say. I appreciate that you take the time to read my blatherings musings and add gems of your own.

Just for a bit of a blast from the past, I moved my first two posts from The Capital Letter's original home over to this site. If you missed the start, or if you fancy a refresher, here they are in all their beginner's glory:

Taking the Plunge
What's in a name?

17 March 2006

Happy St. Patricks Day

BerlinBear avatarI don't really celebrate St. Patricks Day, any more. I used to when I was an undergraduate at the University of Auckland. This was for two main reasons. First, my friends and I were pretty much regulars at an Irish Pub in town (Murphy's Bar - for those in the know - back in the days when The Dog's Bollix still played there). And secondly, crucially, St. Patricks Day is a celebration which principally involves drinking, which made it perfect for undergraduate students such as myself.

This year, I even almost missed the fact that today is St. Patrick's Day entirely. Only just noticed now, when I came across something by chance online. But since I have several Irish friends who I know will be larking it up today and really getting into the spirit of the thing, I thought I'd just bang out a quick post to wish anyone who feels "spoken to" a very happy St. Patrick's Day.

For more info:
Wikipedia article on St. Patrick's Day


15 March 2006

xjwfusvc - Aaaarrrggghh

BerlinBear avatarIt's always the way, isn't it? You totally neglect your blog for over a week; you don't even swing by once to see how she's getting on; then you sneak in and make a quick, surreptitious post and bang, you're right back into it and your head is filled with dozens of things you should and could have been posting about over the last 11 days of silence. I shall limit myself to one such thing, and one such post, however.

My bugbear du jour, for instance, is blogger.com's new-fangled Word verification on posts. Any of my readers who are blogger.com bloggers will know what I mean. For any who are not, blogger.com blogs now require you to type in a random sequence of letters from a so-called captchapicture before hitting "Publish post." (See image)

How annoying is that? I know why they've done it, namely because blogspot blogs are a favourite haunt for automated spam bloggers (or: sploggers), but it still annoys me to have to prove that I am human every time I want to make a post.

Besides, what is the deal with proving you are human by typing a random sequence of meaningless letters? Wouldn't it be better if it were a human word which bots can't read? Like, I don't know, spambots suck, or human, honestly or something along those lines.

And besides, blogger.com's word verification has become so long and complex and warped and hard to read that I now find that I type it wrong at least one time in four. That is truly annoying.

Not a fan of word verification. Can you tell?



BerlinBear avatarOh woe is my poor neglected blog! Eleven days without an update or post of any sort. Eleven days without so much as looking at the comments, let alone replying to them. I believe that may be a record since I started blogging almost a year ago.

Sometimes RealLifetm has a funny way of interfering in the best laid online plans. And sometimes, the muse just leaves you for a bit. Very occasionally, the two coincide. The result is silence at the The Capital Letter.


Normal service will resume soon. Hopefully tomorrow.

04 March 2006

We're sinking

BerlinBear avatarAs a language teacher who spends much of his day trying to hammer accurate pronunciation into and mother-tongue interference errors out of German students, I just about fell off my chair laughing when I saw this advertising video from Berlitz.

Welcome to my world.

Berlitz advertising video. (MPEG file)


Three countries in one day

BerlinBear avatar For me as a New Zealander, one of the strangest and most enjoyable things about living in Europe is the potential for visiting or travelling through multiple countries in one day. From New Zealand, if you want to get to another country, the only options are by boat or plane, and the fastest you can possibly get to another country is the two and three-quarter hours it takes to get to Sydney. And once you get there, obviously, they speak the same language. Not so in Europe, where 4 or 5 countries and 5 or 6 language communities in one day are perfectly manageable.

So it was yesterday that Miss Behaviour and I set off from Trier for a day trip to Antwerp. Visiting Antwerp per se was not our intention. Instead we wanted to go to a specific shop in Antwerp. So we did. We travelled by train from Trier (language: German), through Luxembourg (languages: French, L
ëtzebuergesch, German), to Brussels (languages: French, Flemish) to Antwerp (language: Flemish). We got off the train, went to our shop, made our purchase, had a late lunch, wandered around for an hour or so, bought some chocolates and truffles for the Behaviour parents, and came back. The whole trip took about 13 hours, of which around 10 were spent in trains. In that time, we travelled through three countries and five language communities, ourselves speaking all the while a sixth language, English. I know I'm a tragic language geek, but that to me is fundamentally cool. Even though I've now lived in Europe for over six years, I still have not quite adjusted to the easy access to other countries and languages. As a result, I still get a disproportionate amount of pleasure on the few occasions I take advantage of this proximity.

Anyway, below are a couple of photos of Antwerp. The weather wasn't great and it was fairly dark, meaning the lighting is not the best. Nonetheless, I think they still give a hint of some of the lovely buildings in the central city (click for larger images).


No appreciation of culcha

BerlinBear avatarNow here's a kid who still needs to work on his appreciation of high culture and fine art. A 12 year-old boy in Detroit has been suspended from school after sticking a piece of gum to a $1.5 million dollar painting during a school field trip. They breed their heathens young in Detroit, it would seem.

According to BBC News, the offending piece of gum was found in the corner of "The Bay", a 1963 abstract ex-pressionist painting by Helen Frankenthaler after the boy and his classmates had departed. Curators are currently working on restoring the painting, but do not expect any permanent damage.

On the one hand, I reckon that by the age of 12, every kid ought to know that a painting in an art museum is not the best place to dispose of his gum, so I don't really buy the "yeah, but he's only 12 after all" argument advanced in his defence by one of his teachers. But then on the other hand, looking at the painting, I can sort of appreciate how the youngster might have thought that a piece of gum might fit in!

In any case, it sounds from the BBC article as though the whole incident has been handled pretty well both by the boy's teachers and the Detroit Institute of Arts, which is encouraging. The article notes, somewhat ominously, His parents had also taken disciplinary action, Ms Kildee said. Yikes! I wonder what the going grounding rate is for vandalising modern art? A year? More? Less?

On the plus side, I suppose, at least the school group was in the art museum in the first place. You have to start somewhere.