Monday, November 2, 2009

E books

A little less than 10 years ago I received an intriguing gift from a friend for my birthday. It was an e-book, one of the first designed precisely for that purpose. It was called the Rocket E-Book, and I became curious and decided to try it out. The basic process was to go online, purchase an e-book, download it on your computer and then transfer it to the e-book reader. With one exception this has been the process all along till today. The exception is the current Kindle reader from Amazon which downloads directly using a wireless telephone network to the reader from the Amazon website.

My friend knew that I had always enjoyed reading a wide variety of books and thought this might be a nice innovation for me. It was! Over these past years I have read a number of e-books on different e-readers as the technology and the companies seemed to change regularly. After the Rocket e-book went out of business, I switched to a Palm which worked well for several years, and then my Palm broke, and I moved to a Blackberry format which was unfortunately smaller. Eventually the books that I bought for my Palm became readable on my Blackberry and that was very good as I had a collection of books that I had not read. I have tended to buy a number of works from a given author whose works I admired, as it was easier to buy several books at the same time.

We have a number of bookshelves at home full of books that I've read over the years. Unfortunately I've never been a library person who doesn't have to worry about how much bookshelf space is available, and therefore we have always had to purchase new bookshelves over the years. I know that the e-books I have read (perhaps 100 or so) have saved me a fair amount of bookshelf space.

People have always asked me: how can I read a book on a small e-book reader. My answer is always the same: once you start reading and get involved in the story or the narrative, you tend to forget which medium you're using. It's like watching a movie on a small black-and-white television or a large movie house screen with all the color and sound. If the story is worth following you get immersed in the story and forget the medium. Of course I still buy hardcover and paperback books, and I treasure these as much as I always have.

In the public media there is a large debate today about the onslaught of new e-book readers (Sony has one, Barnes & Noble is bringing out one, Amazon is bringing out its fourth one, etc.). During this past year I bought the second generation Kindle from Amazon and have enjoyed it immensely. If you're in the United States (and now most of the rest of the world with its international version introduced a few weeks ago) you can use it as a browser, but this part is still very awkward. On the other hand its built-in dictionary is fabulous both with respect to the depth and ease of use. If you use the cursor to scroll down the page each time it stops on a given word you see at the bottom the beginning of a definition of that word at the bottom of the page, and with one click you can have the full definition with etymology etc. on your full screen. One more click and you're back in your book. I hope this evolves to have more language dictionaries which have the same capability, but they are not up to snuff on this yet (for instance they don't have a good French English dictionary for the Kindle yet).

A final note: I've always been an airport reader, and have always had to take an extra book or two along on trips in case of the likely or unlikely event that I would finish one book on a given trip (what a disaster that might be!). The e-book reader is easy to carry along and it has a number of books on it, so that this "disaster" just doesn't happen, provided you remember to charge it!
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Sunday, October 18, 2009

German Customs

Having married into a Bremen family in Germany some time ago, I have become accustomed to and have had to learn about many German customs which are quite different from the Texas world I grew up in as a teenager.  Today I would like to give a few samples of these customs.  In the future I might try to find examples of cultural issues from Texas that might surprise my German friends, but one things at a time right now!
Shaking hands!  One knows from watching Japanese movies that the normal greeting between two Japanese (at least if they are in the same social class) is a respectful bow.  In Western Culture, we shake hands, but the Germans take it to a somewhat higher level, it seems to me.  When I was a young married man living in my parents-in-law's home for a few weeks on a visit, I would dutifully shake hands with my father-in-law when we saw each other for the first time at the breakfast table, and then again when we were off to bed after an evening of conversation and red or white wine.
If there was a larger dinner party with family and friends, as pictured in the beautiful Christmas dinner shown in the picture as prepared by my daughter-in-law a couple of years ago with the Christmas tree full of real candles, a genuine and wonderful German custom, then the rules for saying good-bye at the end of the evening (for a young man in the early days, now an older man in these days), was to seek out the eldes lady of the evening, shake hands with her, and then the eldest gentleman, and shake hands and say good-bye to him, and then so forth, until you have shaken hands with the youngest child in the room.  No exceptions!  It actually works, and is a very nice ritual. At the beginning of a meal, no one eats until the host or hostess say in a very polite but distinct voice: "Guten Appetit".  In American society, either there is a family blessing for families so inclined (a nice gesture in a family setting), or when the hostess takes the first bite.  I prefer the German system (the French and other European societies have similar customs ("bon apetite" in French, for instance).

If there is a large social gathering (like 700 men all in Tuxedos at the Eiswette in Bremen), then at the beginning of the evening, one mingles around and formally says good evening to many that one knows, and is introduced to a good many that one doesn't know.  Always with a warm handshake and a good meeting of the eyes. As one wanders around the room, inevitably one comes across a colleague with whom one has already shaken hands and then the following happens: I reach out my hand (either forgetting we have already shaken hands, or not minding to do it again).  The German colleague reaches towards my hand, recognizes that we have already shaken hands, and then withdraws his hand very quickly before the hands can touch, as if he had almost touched a hot iron, and he says with a warm smile, "Wir haben schon!" (We already have! [shaken hands]). 

A final note on a German custom at social dinner parties in Bremen.  Normally the men wear coat and ties, and some couples may not know others at the dinner party (this is an occasion for them to meet new people; over the years we met many new people this way having been invited to a number of very fine dinner parties). At the beginning of the evening when all guests have arrived (usually quite punctually!), the host (or hostess) will have poured champagne for everyone, and everyone is still standing, and there is a small welcoming speech, at which the host introduces everyone to all present with a little background info for those meeting each other for the first time,  This is done very graciously, and then the group is invited to sit down, either with place cards, or with the host and hostess explaining where everyone should sit. After an initial toast and a hearty "Guten Appetit", the dinner begins, and usually a lively conversation has ensued.  We were present at many such dinners and then for several years, as a thanks to our being welcomed so warmly in Bremen, we hosted about 6 such dinner parties ourselves, with 10-12 people at each dinner party.  A Bremen ritual which never failed was that the man sitting to the left of my wife Rena (who was  the hostess) would stand up, button his coat, move behind his chair and give a speech.  This was after the main course and before the desert, without fail.  The speech was sometimes five minutes long, was fundamentally a thank you speech on behalf of all the guests directed very warmly towards the hosts.  The person sitting to the left of  Rena learned of this seating only as the dinner party had been seated as a whole, and that meant (according to the unwritten custom) that he was to give such a speech, and it never failed.  Absolutely amazing.  And as one acquaintance told us (she was the wife of a banker from Cologne who had been at many such dinner parties): "In Bremen if there are more than six at the dinner party the man must stand up, but with six or less he can remain seated..." 

Around the world we have many different customs which may often seem strange to others, but it can be charming and very informative to try to understand as much as one can when one is living in a land foreign to one's own.  And with that, I'll say dear friends, "Gute Nacht".

Saturday, October 10, 2009

War and Peace

This morning the world found out that Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, an event that immediately sent reverberations around the world. Hours after he received the news he had to call together his security team moving closer to making decisions in the ongoing war in Afghanistan. This is symbolic in our current world of the ongoing saga of war and peace that has been part of our world from time immemorial.

Tolstoy immortalized the words War and Peace in his book written in the middle of the 19th century of the same title. I started reading this book last year as it is obviously an icon of literature which I had never read. I'm not finished with it yet, but I'm at least halfway through and I find it immensely satisfying. Towards the beginning of the book he describes the particular battle of Austerlitz where Napoleon personally encountered the Emperor of Russia and the Emperor of Austria, and became famous throughout Europe for his military victory over these two great powers at that time. I realized I had no idea what Napoleon had done in his career, except that he had conquered most of Europe and left his imprint on many parts of society (as Julius Caesar had done centuries earlier).

I decided to read a biography of Napoleon and then chose one written not too long ago by an American military historian Robert Asprey, whose account of Napoleon was quite readable, but, as they say in the political jargon originated in the "infamous" debate between Lloyd Bentson and Dan Quayle, Asprey was no William Manchester or David McCullough. I learned a lot about Napoleon which I didn't know at all before. The picture posted in this blog is a city street in Verona in northern Italy, and Napoleon made his first entry onto the world stage in northern Italy fighting battles against the Austrian Empire, which was the power and force in northern Italy at that time. But I didn't really know that after the French Revolution, when Napoleon began his career, almost all of the great powers in Europe outside France, this included England and Austria in particular, attacked France because the establishment of the republican form of government, modeled on the United States, was a threat to all of the monarchies in Europe. This account reminded me vividly of the time when Israel was established and all of the Arab countries attacked at once, because Israel was a similar threat to the Arab hegemony in that region at that time.

Napoleon went from rags to riches and became very arrogant with the power that he obtained. An example of this is when on June 12, 1812 Napoleon decided to invade Russia, and crossed the river which was the boundary between Poland and Russia at that time. Emperor Alexander was attending a ball in the city of Vilnius (Lithuania), and sent a letter to Napoleon asking him to stop the military activity, that they could sort out their differences, and he would welcome an early answer to this letter. He sent a general with this written letter to deliver it personally to Napoleon. He wrote the letter with his aides in a study in the castle in Vilnius. The general attempted to deliver the letter to Napoleon who was on the Russian side of the river, and they gave him the runaround and said that he would get to see Napoleon soon, but he would have to wait and travel with the troops. After four days, Emperor Alexander having fled Vilnius, the general was received by Napoleon in the same castle in Vilnius and in the same study where the letter had been written! Of course Napoleon's arrogance was answered with a major defeat as he marched to Moscow and back losing almost all of his troops.

A final personal note. I was born at a time I personally didn't have to serve in the military. However three of my uncles (brothers of my mother) served in the second world war (Army, Navy, Marines), and my father-in-law as well in the German Navy. My younger brothers served in the Marines and in the Navy during the Vietnam War, and one of our closest friends, generation of our children, is a Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Air Force and visiting us this weekend. He has served in Saudi Arabia as well as Iraq last year. War and Peace may be abstract concepts, but they affect people and families around the world. I'm so thankful the Cold War ended as a cold war, and my hope is that the conflicts of the world will gradually decrease as everyone realizes that we are a small planet with limited resources.

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Saturday, October 3, 2009

Sibling Rivalry

This time of year in Colorado especially in Rocky mountain national Park is known as the bugling season. This is when the various stag elks are vying with each other with their loud mating calls. Since some of these stags are surely sibling, we can give this as an example of "sibling rivalry", a modest theme that I chose for today's discussion. Actually I want to talk about some interesting tidbits about cooking that relate to the theme of sibling rivalry.

The most vivid example is a restaurant in Boston we visited several years ago and whose name is literally Sibling Rivalry. David and Bob Kinkead are the two chefs at this restaurant. Their menu varies regularly but it has the following wonderful style. They choose together a sequence of ingredients that one can buy at a store or market. This can range from certain fresh vegetables to certain selections of meat or fish, etc.. They have three types of menu items, at least. One is an appetizer, two is a main course, three is a side dish, and four could be a dessert. Maybe there are others; I just don't recall, having been there only once. At a given line on the menu the ingredient is listed, and the next two or three listings across on this line are either an appetizer or an main course or possibly a dessert which uses this item as a main ingredient. So you might have duck as an appetizer in the form of paté, and you might have duck as the main dish in the form of pressed duck (which I happen to have had, and it was fabulous). The competition is who can do better with a given ingredient! That is the sibling rivalry, and the guest in this restaurant is the winner.

Frasca is a relatively new restaurant in Boulder which was established not too long before we arrived in January of 2008. The chef, the sommelier, and the wife of the sommelier, as business manager, had all been working actively at a restaurant in California called The French Laundry. The French Laundry in Napa Valley had the reputation of being the top restaurant in the United States (I'm sure many are contending for this title as we speak). The competitive spirit of mountain biking and marathon running, which is very pervasive in Boulder, was a primary reason that these three people moved to Boulder to create a new restaurant. It's a superb Italian restaurant with a wonderful set of wines to go with a varied set of tasty dishes. Everyone in Boulder told us we could not get a reservation there unless we were willing to wait for two months. This turned out not to be true and we have been there several times. However their answering machine has a unique selling point for the restaurant as it says, and I paraphrase, "Feel free to leave your name and number for a reservation for up to two months in the future". I feel this reputation that you can only get a reservation after two months of waiting stems from this interesting answering machine advertisement. On Monday nights they try out new dishes, and you don't really get to see the menu but just a selection of chef specials that they're trying out. I highly recommend it!

A different sense of competition (often including siblings) is the Big Texan restaurant in Amarillo, Texas, which I mentioned last week. For hundreds of miles around Amarillo on the major highways leading into Amarillo from New Mexico and Oklahoma and parts of Texas, one sees a huge sign which says "Free 72 Ounce Steak, if you can eat it all in one hour". This is a very kitschy Texas restaurant with music and elk antlers all over the room serving superb steaks with a huge turnover of customers. Those few who are tempted to sit on the stage and work through four and a half pounds of steak with the required baked potato and three-shrimp cocktail along with a small dessert, and a salad in one hour with a ticking clock visible to all are ambitious indeed, and most fail, but some succeed and they go into the legendary books of this crazy restaurant. The last time we were there we saw two young men striving to achieve this goal, but we left after 30 minutes of their time, and do not know whether they made it or not!

My final comment on this theme of eating and cooking is that everyone should see the gorgeous movie Julie and Julia, the story of two women and their relationship with food spanning some 50 years. Julia Child is an American icon, and Julie Powell showed us how in her book and movie one can truly appreciate what Julia (and Joy) did for American cooking.
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Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Health Care Debate

After traveling for several weeks visiting family in the Texas area as well as Boston, we are now back in Boulder enjoying peace and quiet and beautiful weather. It was great to see the family in Texas and Boston, but the trip was very strenuous as we drove 2600 miles not counting the flight from Dallas to Boston and back. The photo shows a fiddler at the Big Texan in Amarillo, one of our favorite stopovers between Colorado and the Dallas area.

In all of this time I've been following on the New York Times and online the health care debate. I realized that I missed many of the talking heads on the standard television shows informing us as to the different opinions of everyone. My own thought on this debate is that something needs to change, and I really hope that Pres. Obama will get a health care bill out of his five committees that will be very useful and very important for the American people. Having spent the last 11 years in Germany, where everyone is required to have health care and the government steps in when someone can't afford it, it is almost impossible to realize that there are so many millions of Americans that do not have health care. In my own family circles both my father and my brother have run businesses in which they could not afford to provide health care for their employees. In such small family-run businesses the biggest issue seems to always have been paying payroll taxes on behalf of the employees (which is required by law), and these payroll taxes, of course, are the backbone of Social Security and Medicare. It will be great when small businesses will be able to link together in some manner to be able to qualify for the group rates that work for large corporations and organizations.

I have been using Medicare as a health insurance for the past several years, and have found it very workable and affordable. When I was in Germany I paid for private health insurance which was much more expensive, and also effective. I could have opted for a cheaper plan in Germany and the idea of having a choice is I think very important. Health costs have to come down and I will give one example of extreme inefficiency. I've been in Boulder for two years now and in the that time we have had four family doctors. The turnover was amazing, but it all made sense for the reasons that it happened. One of the doctors went to Germany to follow her husband, another went to Cambridge, Massachusetts for a special internship for two years at Harvard, and a local office closed down and the doctors in that office had to move to either a local hospital or out in the suburbs and one of our doctors chose the suburbs! Thus we have a new doctor, and that's fine. In all of this time the good medical assistant Tom never changed. He was always there as the doctors shifted. Also quite amazing. The bad part of all this is that every time we got a new doctor my wife and I had to fill out new forms with our medical history. It seemed that it was impossible for the clinic to retrieve the records (even though it was the same office with the same loyal receptionist who'd been there before). This seemed to be an unfortunate waste of time and resources. I think communication is the key to most enterprises today, and the medical industry needs to improve the communication channels between doctors and patients, insurance companies, and all others involved. This would save an enormous amount of money, I'm sure, and it is one of the things the president Obama has always mentioned in his discussion of health care reform. I did take the time to watch president Obama's 50 minute speech on health care, and I recommend it to everyone. A powerful speech, and one could learn much from it.

One final footnote on the debate that was so very silly. I heard that one of the political statements from a very conservative senior citizen was the following: "I don't want the government messing with my Medicare!" Well Medicare for everybody would not be that bad. The financing is the real issue.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

4th of July

Today is the 4th of July, and we are celebrating it this evening with the Carl Schurz Deutsch-Amerikanischer Club in Bremen, a club in Bremen devoted to improving or advancing relationships between citizens of the United States and citizens of Germany, and also a club that I have been president of for the past seven years (time seems to be flying here sometime). The club was founded right after the second world war in Bremen to improve the relations between the American soldiers who were occupying Bremen at the time and the German citizens of the town. Over the years these two populations got along very well, and there was much mutual accord and respect that developed. The last serious phase of this was about 1991 when a large contingent of American soldiers was sent to the Middle East during the first Persian Gulf War. Their families were left behind in the area around Bremen and Carl Schurz played a major role in helping take care of these families in their time of need. In about 2002, soon after I became President of the organization, the United States Army awarded the club and some of its leading members (before my time) a distinguished service award for all the club had done for American service personnel in its first 50 years of activity.

Today, the soldiers are all gone (there is a contingent of less than 10 soldiers in a logistics unit dealing with shipping in Bremerhaven), and the club is looking for new ways to continue building relationships between America and Germany. We have made several steps in this regard, but there is still a long way to go. I refer you to our new web site which (as it is being upgraded and added onto) is continuously giving more information about our past, present and future activities.

I want to wish all Americans on this special day, wherever you might be in the world, a very special Happy Fourth of July. In particular I am thankful that the American political system has given us this past fall a president who is reaching out to so many parts of society around the world, and who has been endowed with powerful political skills that will help make inroads into some of the most serious problems of the day. I just finished reading a book Ultimatum by Mathew Glass, which portrays the kinds of problems an American president might be having thirty years from now (especially in the issue of Climate Change, and the Relocation of millions of Americans from coastal regions) if we do NOT start effectively solving some of our problems now. A book well worth reading, but for today, enjoy the holiday everyone.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Richard Holbrooke and Real W.M.D.’s

Richard Holbrooke is an outstanding American diplomat who has gone back and forth from the private sector to public service in the course of a very significant career.  He is memorable for his work on the Dayton accords and bringing Slobodon Milosovich and his cronies to a peaceful agreement.  He has been Ambassador to Germany and to the United Nations and in now the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan in the Obama administration.  He also was the major creator of the American Academy in Berlin in 1996.  In a document about the founding of this institution the opening paragraph has a memorable quote from Henry Kissinger which I paraphrase as follows:  “When Richard Holbrooke comes to ask you for money (e.g. for his new Academy), go ahead and give it to him right away.  You’ll have to in the long run, and it’s a lot quicker to get it out of the way.  He’s very stubborn!”   It has been his stubbornness that has been one of the hallmarks of his career.

Last summer I read a remarkable book review by Holbrooke in the New York Times (22 June 2008) entitled “Real W.M.D’s”.  This was the review of a new book (at that time) by Michael Dobbs on the Cuban Missile Crisis.  As Holbrooke said, there had been many books on this issue, but in his opening sentences he says, “The result is a book with sobering new information about the world’s only superpower nuclear confrontation — as well a contemporary relevance.”  The key words here are “sobering new information”.   The book by Dobbs is entitled “One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War”.  I’ve posted the review by Holbrooke on my Facebook page, and it can be found directly in the New York Times or by writing me for an email copy.  I strongly recommend reading it.

Towards the end of the review Holbrooke tells his readers that if they think they know a lot about the Cuban Missile Crisis, then they should immediately read this new book, and they would learn a lot they didn’t know.  If the reader was less familiar with it (I belonged to this category; I only knew the headlines), then one should read the survey of the crisis by Max Frankel (former NY Times editor):  “High Noon in the Cold War” published about five years ago. 

Following Kissinger’s advice to not wait and get it over with, I ordered both of these books immediately (e-book versions) and finished both quite quickly, being mesmerized by this tale of high drama and very scary scenarios.  We, that is the whole world, were very, very lucky to have gotten through that time without a major tragedy.

I want to end by quoting Holbrooke who was writing during the last year of the Bush administration:

It is hard to read this book without thinking about what would have happened if the current administration had faced such a situation — real weapons of mass destruction only 90 miles from Florida; the Pentagon urging “surgical” air attacks followed by an invasion; threatening letters from the leader of a real superpower and senators calling the president “weak” just weeks before a midterm Congressional election.

Note: the provocative photo is from the NY Times Review and is by Paul Sahre

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Weather or Not

Posted by PicasaLast week I discussed how environmentally conscious citizens had helped shaped the two cities of Boulder and Bremen in similar ways, in particular with respect to bicycling, for instance. One thing that the local politicians cannot control, of course, is the weather (and we are not talking about global politicians dealing with global warming, a completely different subject!).  Comparing the weather in these two cities is not too difficult.  The winters are colder in Boulder, and the summers are hotter than in Bremen.  Fall and spring are very similar temperature-wise.  In fact, Boulder weather is more like that of southern German close to the Alps, where the Gulf Stream doesn’t have the strong influence it does on northern Germany, moderating the extremes in temperature a great deal.

There is a huge difference in psychology however.  If a Boulderite wakes up to a sunny day, they might well  say to themselves, “Ah, another sunny day. How nice .”  See the photo above.  If a Bremer wakes up to a sunny day, they might well say,” Wow, the sun is shining.  This is really great!”  There are just a lot more sunny days in Boulder (more than in San Diego or Miami, reckoned at 300 sunny days per year).  Complacency can set in, and when it is overcast, one knows that it is just for a day or so, and a major storm can last longer, of course.  I recall how last November and December in Bremen, there were almost no sunny days at all.  Between Christmas and New Years there were a few sunny (and crisp and cold) days, which were memorable, because they were memorable.  In Boulder, where I am now writing this, it’s is sunny almost every day, and therefore recalling a particular day as having been a sunny one would not be easy at all.  

Living in Germany half time, as we do, one can very much appreciate why the Greeks created the sun god Apollo, as when the sun does shine there, one feels one should worship the sunshine itself.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Tale of Two Cities

Boulder and Bremen have been our two home towns for a little over a year now, and we are spending half our time in each.  Boulder is located on the edge of the Rocky Mountains, just northwest of Denver, and Bremen is located about 40 miles from the North Sea in Germany west of Hamburg and east of Amsterdam. They are both special places with very different histories.  Bremen’s history goes back over 1000 years as an independent city-state, except under the regimes of Napoleon and Hitler as the former popular mayor of Bremen Henning Scherf always liked to say in his speeches. Boulder on the other hand is celebrating its 150th year this year.  Bremen has always been a major trade center, and since the latter part of the 19th century it has been an industrial center as well (the second largest Mercedes plant in the world is there, along with a factory that makes major parts for the Airbus airplanes, and it has always built ships in its extensive harbor complex).  Boulder started out provisioning the miners in the gold rush of the 1850s and 60s when gold was found in the Boulder canyon (which comes right down to the city center today) and in the nearby hills.  Enterprising farms built up an agricultural base in Boulder and the University of Colorado was founded there in 1876, the same year Colorado became a state in the United States.  Today it is a thriving community of a little over 100,000 people with a mixture of university life (20,000 students), high tech industry, government research laboratories, and its original agricultural base.

One thing that has struck me about these two very different communities is the very strong sense of environmental activism and purpose which has been a part of both of their stories.  In Bremen the Green Party was founded in the 1970s, and they have played a role in the city-state government since then (currently they are part of a coalition government in Bremen).  They have also played an important role in national German politics.  Joschka Fischer, who was a Green party member from the early days and is now a former German Foreign Minister became, in the course of his career, one of the most admired German politicians today.  Boulder has been involved with its own awareness of environmental since the early part of the twentieth century.  Most significantly, it was the first community in the US to vote for a sales tax for the purchase of a greenbelt in 1967.  Today there is a greenbelt of 45,000 acres surrounding the city completely.  This is an area the size of Manhattan Island! 

When one drives into Boulder from any direction, one notices this Greenbelt, especially when driving in from highly populated Denver area on US 36.  In the Denver suburbs reaching out towards Boulder, one sees massive housing developments on all sides, but suddenly, it is peaceful and pastoral on the sides of the road and you know you are in the Greenbelt, and there is Boulder nestled down in the valley below surrounded by this wonderful  space of tranquility. It is quite unique.  Bremen is full of bicycles and has an ample supply of places to ride them.  It is one of the leaders in Germany in affording bicycle routes for its citizens, and most of them are not on the road, but run along alongside and independent of the pedestrian sidewalks and the lanes for the street cars, and the cars.  They make an effort to have all these transportation media (streetcar, car, bike, pedestrian) going parallel but not interfering with each other and, often with their own streetlight signals.  You can get all over the city easily on a bike.  It is similar in Boulder, with bike paths everywhere, but most are simply an extra small lane on a given street, and it is not nearly as protected from traffic as in Bremen.  On the other hand, Boulder has created an extensive “Greenway” hike and bike path which covers most of the city and is independent of the street system, with a system of tunnels along creek beds going under the major intersections.  It is especially delightful to ride along Boulder Creek with majestic trees and the creek gurgling along the rock and boulder bed as it takes the water from the mountains to the plains.

Both cities have often used the small traffic circle or a simple concrete barrier forcing a driver to slow down to make a curve around the obstacle to slow down traffic in various residential communities.  Again the environmentalists here have made their point, and one does slow down and one can appreciate the neighboring streets so much more than one would if one were to zoom through there in our normal hurried states.  Boulder and Bremen, two cities worlds apart, but with a lot of similarities.


Friday, February 13, 2009

Joachim Fest "Hitler"

Just before we came back to Boulder at the beginning of the year I was able to finish a monumental biography of Hitler by Joachim Fest that came out in 1973 (and I presume came out in English sometime later).  The book had been on my bookshelf for years sitting there unread (1000 pages in German).  Not too long ago a movie came out in Germany called "Der Untergang", a very well done movie about Hitler's last five days in his bunker in Berlin. This was very well done, and I decided to read the book on which the movie was based ("Der Untergang" also by Fest), a much newer book than his major work mentioned above.  It was a quick and vivid read, and the film and the book were complementary and both quite good. Then not too long ago a new book by Fest came out about his childhood and how his parents had stood up to the Nazis.  I bought it, but then decided not to read it till I had read the 1000 page monster biography, and this was a good decision, as I might never have read it otherwise.  I still have yet to read this newest book of this (and it was his last book as he died not too long ago), and it is sitting on my bookshelf in Bremen to be read when we return in March.  

There were a number of things that struck me as I read Fest's biography.  First there was the vivid description of the early days of Hitler in Linz and Vienna where his antisemetic views were reinforced and sharpened and his strong view of German nationalism developed.   Second, I was just not aware that the beer hall Putsch of 1923 when Hitler was the head of the Nazi party was the beginning of a march on Berlin to take over the government (I should have known better from the word Putsch).  This failed and Hitler was put in prison for high treason for less than a year.  When he got out of prison in December of 1924 he was 35 years old, had no money, his Nazi party had been banned and all of the Nazi newspapers had been closed.  The most fascinating part of the book was his rise to power in the next 9 years becoming Chancellor in 1933.  This is very worthwhile reading to see how he manipulated all of the other German political parties and interests using anticommunism and fear of the Soviet Union as a powerful tactical tool.  The final note which surprised me, and which the author described quite vividly, was the sheer number of anti-Hitler conspiracies that evolved from the beginning of his regime, the most notable being von Stauffenberg, the subject of a current movie with Tom Cruise, and the most bizarre being one involving Heinrich Himmler somewhere in 1943 as I recall.  As we know they were all failures, and this demagogue decided when and where he would end his life (in Berlin on 30 April 1945, 10 days after celebrating his birthday and one day after he got married).  I strongly recommend this book which is a masterpiece of writing and biography.  His use of the German language is some of the best I have ever read.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Comments from Colorado

I decided to try out the idea of a blog.  It seems like a useful way of communicating on a wide variety of topics.  I'm sitting in my study in Boulder looking out over a view of the Flatirons which has a beautiful new cover of snow.  Off to get some exercise soon