Wednesday, November 30, 2005

What's On: Football Art in Berlin

As Germany gears up for next years World Cup, there is an exhibition at the Martin Gropius Bau in Berlin entitled 'Rundlederwelten' that is part of the artistic and cultural programme being put on by the German government in honour of the event.

The exhibition includes paintings, video installations, sculptures and photographs from 74 artists from 20 different nations, all exploring the theme of football through their art. As well as the exhibition itself, there are a number of special events going on during its time in Berlin, such as theatre performances and open artistic workshops.

On the website are more details, as well as a sections called 'Goal! Object of the Week' which gives you a chance to check out some of the artworks online. A good tip for those that like football and art, or are just curious as to the ways the two can be melded.

More information: Rundlederwelten Website

The Rundlederwelten exhibition is taking place at the Martin Gropius Bau on Niederkirchnerstraße, Berlin, until the 8th January. Open from 10am until 8pm, evry day except Tuesdays, admission costs €6.

Blogs: Some more Berlin and Germany blogs...

An afternoon off gives me the chance to explore the blogosphere for some more blogs on Berlin, Germany, or anywhere else for that matter. I especially liked Broke in Berlin, another Brit (I think). Some interesting posts in there to read with a cup of coffee. My favourite involved a trip to the supermarket and an encounter with an old German lady and her German apples.

Elsewhere, I also enjoyed a browse through a blog from the other side of the country, an American musing on what it is like to be Foreign in Frankfurt, and what looks to be a super useful site if you ever find yourself heading down to Munich. Toytown Munich, with articles, city information, a forum and loads of other stuff. One interesting feature in the Munich Wiki, that allows anyone to edit the information - on culture, entertainment and loads of other topics - and has created what looks like an excellent resource for those living in the city or heading there for a visit.

Well done chaps!

Review: Berlin Books - Stasiland

The third in the Books on Berlin series deals with life behind the Berlin Wall in the shadow of the Stasi...

Stasiland: Anna Funder

Anna Funder, an Australian journalist living in Berlin, chose the Stasi and East Germany as the topic for her first book. Published in 2003 it received excellent reviews and even won the Guardian's First Book award. Good stuff for Ms Funder, but sadly Stasiland itself doesn't justify the hype.

First up, the good points. Stasiland is made up of a number of individual stories from people in East Germany and their involvement or interaction with the Ministerium für Staatssicherheit (Ministry for State Security), better known as the Stasi. And some of these stories and their tales of individual people living in the shadow of the Stasi are absolutely fascinating, including those persecuted by the ministry, those who tried to escape, those who supported in the Stasi and the system they in turn were propping up, and also those who worked for them in both formal and informal capacities. Funder in general writes well on her subjects, and in this sense her book is worth reading for some of the portraits found in there.

However, and it is a big however, there are a number of problems with this book. Firstly, although Funder can obviously write, sometimes it feels as if she would rather be writing a novel. The opening paragraph of the book is illustrative:

"I am hungover and steer myself like a car through the crowds at Alexanderplatz station. Several times I miscalculate my width, scraping into a bin, and an advertising bollard. Tomorrow bruises will develop on my skin, like pictures from a negative."

There is a lot of this kind of writing, and it (for me) generally detracts from the parts which are well-written, descriptive and perceptive, usually when she forgets about herself and concentrates on her subject. Basically there is too much Anna Funder in Stasiland, and most of what is in there is not all that interesting.

Another problem is that the picture she paints about life in East Germany is wholly negative. This is understandable in a book about the Stasi, and maybe this criticism is better aimed at the English language publishers rather than Ms Funder, but I have spoken to many people of all ages who lived in the DDR and the picture painted in almost all books in English that deal with this time in history don't ring true to what these friends of mine and their families tell me.

This is not to diminish the crimes of a state that basically undertook the largest spying operation of any nation in history against its own population, but it does push the average English readers impressions of what life was really like in the DDR along a very simplistic path. In German there are any number of books about all aspects of life in the DDR, and readers can form a better overview of what life was really like. Again, this is not Funder's problem in that her subject is the Stasi, but this simplistic way of looking at East Germany does seem to influence her writing, to the extent that the message about the DDR in general that the reader gets is very black and white.

So although Stasiland is generally a good read, the overly simplistic portrayal of life in the DDR, and the flowery, overly-personal writing prevents me from getting too enthusiastic about a book that actually deals with a subject that fascinates me.

If you want to get a better impression of the operations of the Stasi, and more importantly a discussion of what it all means, and from a far better writer as well, then check out The File by Timothy Garten Ash. I will review that book in detail another time, but I would just quickly say that his exploration of the workings of state security in the DDR is much more nuanced, better explained, and most importantly, recognises the shades of grey involved in the motivations of the people involved.

If you want Stasi For Beginners however, then read Stasiland.

Stasiland is of course available on Amazon, but you can also pick up a copy in the Hauptstadt at one of the English Bookshops in Berlin.

More Books on Berlin.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

News: CIA Flights and the War on Terror

The issue of whether or not the CIA has been using German airbases and airspace to transport detainees between interrogation camps, some of them believed to be in Eastern Europe, has become one of the major foreign policy issues for the new government. The fact that the Council of Europe is now investigating the issue has created widespread interest in these flights and camps just at the time that the new government looks to improve relations with the United States following the tensions of the Schoeder-Fischer era.

The topic has been covered in Der Spiegel (The Hunt for Hercules N8183J) and Deutsche Welle (German Foreign Minister concerned about reported CIA flights) and the whole topic raises some important questions about not only American and European policy, but also on how you fight a "war on terror" in general.

One thing that concerns me is that there seems in general to be a failure to learn the mistakes of the past when it comes to dealing with terrorism. Secret interrogation camps where "unique and innovative methods" are employed may bring some intelligence, but how useful can information be that comes from someone who is suffering from sensory depravation having been made to stand in an ice-cold cell for 40 hours? And beyond that, what are the wider costs?

One of the things that the British government learned in Northern Ireland was that methods such as internment without trial and shoot-to-kill policies not only worked as the greatest recruiting sergeant the IRA ever had, but also swung opinion of the wider community against what they were trying to do. Every instance of what can be perceived as human rights violations by the Americans or British, be it in Iraq, Afghanistan, at home, or in the skies above Europe not only pushes more dissatisfied youth towards the cause of radical Islam, but also threatens the credibility of those nations within the wider world.

If the CIA or any other agency is seen to be above international law, how can politicians then demand that other nations comply with, for example, nuclear non-proliferation treaties? How can European nations who turn a blind eye to these interrogation camps tell Turkey that their human rights laws don't come up to scratch? If the most powerful nations in the world ignore the Geneva Conventions, then you might as well tear the document up. Nobody likes to be told what to do, and especially not by those they perceive as being hypocrites.

Another thing that concerned me about the whole case, specific to Germany, was that of the abduction by the CIA of a German citizen, Khaled el-Masri, in Germany, at the end of 2003. The issue of national sovereignty is at the heart of international law. Imagine the uproar if the Iranian secret service abducted an American citizen in upstate New York. This shows a phenomenal arrogance on the part of the CIA, and sets a very dangerous precedent. The fact that it also happened in Italy, and who knows where else, makes it a very worrying development indeed. In these instances it doesn't even matter to me if they didn't torture those they abducted. The fact that they by-pass the national sovereignty of the country in which they are operating, extradition treaties, laws of arrest and evidence, and all the other cornerstones of fair and proper justice are outrageous enough.

Of course, this is an unusual war, and maybe it needs some unusual methods to win it - if it is even possible to 'win' a war of this nature. And perhaps torture, abductions and secret interrogation camps where no rules of justice or legal processes apply will win the war. But I think that it takes us down a very dangerous road indeed, and the price of that victory too high. The next time the USA tries to put together a 'coalition of the willing' to act in the Middle East or elsewhere, who is going to believe them when they say they are trying to promote democracy or the rule of law, when in their foreign policy they respect neither?

My mum always told me, when someone was being mean to me, not to lower myself to their level. In fighting the war against radical Islam the American government and their friends are doing just that. After September 11th the United States held the moral high ground. Abandoning it has been a grave mistake.

As always, I would be interested to hear what others think - especially on the wider question of: Do the ends justify the means? As you can probably guess I would say no, but I have no doubt there will be those that disagree with me!

Some other links:

An interesting post on German Foreign Policy and the United States: The Capital Letter
Review of the German media response to the CIA Flights: Der Spiegel

What's On: Film Club at the British Council

The British Council has a new film club, which started at the beginning of November with a screening of Ae Fond Kiss by Ken Loach, one of my favourite directors of all time. They are returning to the work of Mr Loach for the second installment of the film club on the 8th December when they show Kes.

Kes is a film about a boy and his kestrel, set in 1960s northern England, and like most Ken Loach films, it is both funny and tragic at the same time. He has made his reputation as a 'social realist' film maker, and he often pulls no punches, yet he uses comedy to lighten the mood. The scene with the PE teacher and the football match, where he is pretending to be Bobby Charlton and gives one of the children on the other team a red card because he is too good is one of the funniest scenes in a film I have ever seen.

Some reviews of Kes.

According to the British Council website, the film club includes an introduction from real or adopted Berliners, discussion after the screening, and wine and nibbles. It starts at 7.30pm and costs nothing if you are a member of the British Council, €2 if you are not.

More Information: British Council Film Club.

Guide: Berlin - Große Hamburger Straße

(Photo: Memorial to Jews who lived on the Große Hamburger Straße and were murdered at Auschwitz. You can find the memorial laid into the pavement at the Oranienburger Straße end of the street)

Berlin Places: Große Hamburger Straße

I decided to start the Berlin Review guide to Berlin Places with the Große Hamburger Straße in Berlin-Mitte, one of the most fascinating streets in the city. Running from Koppenplatz just south of Torstraße to Oranienburger Straße, Große Hamburger Straße is not very long, and yet there is a pile of interesting things to see.

Along its short length there is the Sophien Church, the only baroque steeple left in Berlin, one side of which is still peppered with bullet holes from the Second World War, left unrenovated as a reminder of the past. Then there is the house opposite, which took a direct hit from an allied bombing raid. Now, the gap in the building created by the bomb is marked by placards with the names of those who died, attached to the wall in the approximate position of where they were sleeping when the bomb struck.

There is also the Jewish Gymnasium and graveyard, on the site of which there is a very moving memorial to the Jews that were deported from Berlin to die in the concentration camps. This point on Große Hamburger Straße was used by the Gestapo as the deportation point for the district, right in the heart of what was the Jewish neighbourhood of Berlin. The graveyard was used during the Second World War to bury many of the dead in the city, especially during the arrival of the Red Army in the last days, and there are hardly any gravestones left in place. One that is belongs to the philosopher, Moses Mendelsohn.

The school, the memorial and graveyard are very moving places, and somehow it creates an immediacy that other memorials often don't manage. Berlin is full of small memorials, such as the one I took a photo of at the top of this post, and sometimes I think these small reminders, often more personal, to be discovered by accident as you walk the streets, are often much more powerful than larger, more impressive structures.

Another of these can be found on the Koppenplatz, at the opposite end of Große Hamburger Straße, which is a very simple sculpture of two chairs and a table, one chair knocked to the ground. Again, simple and small, at one end of a play area in a quiet square, the impact is quite and quietly impressive.

As well as reminders of the past, there are a couple of good entertainment tips along the Große Hamburger Straße. First up is the Sophie'nEck, a wonderfully atmospheric restaurant on the corner with Sophienstraße. Lots of dark wood and cozy corners, the Sophie'nEck serves good German cuisine in a very relaxed atmosphere. Especially good for this occasionally homesick expat are the pints of Murphy's on offer behind the bar.

Also on Große Hamburger Straße is the Mudd Club, run by one of the guys behind the legendary club of the same name in New York. There are various different nights on, as well as live concerts, but the best of the bunch are probably the Balkan Beats events, dance floor pounding to souped-up sounds of South Eastern Europe, often becoming one of those nights where you find yourself well into the next day when you finally emerge from the Mudd Club basement.

What else? There's a Catholic hospital, a shop selling wooden toys, a couple of good falafal places at the Oranienburger Straße end of the street, and an American diner. Quite a lot for one small street.

Große Hamburger Straße on the map: Berlin Stadtplan

Monday, November 28, 2005

News: World Cup Tickets and Bundesliga Review

Ever since the ticket process for the World Cup started it has been a farce. First of all they made a load of tickets available for games where the two teams are not even known, which are of course, non-transferable.

The reason for this was probably to ensure Beckenbauer's wish that lots of Germans get tickets, as someone in Leipzig (for example) is more likely to apply for tickets for the games there regardless of who plays than people outside of Germany. This is probably (just about) fair enough as they are the hosts after all, but still. Then there was the fact that your payment options included transfer from a German bank account or Mastercard. And what if you had a Visa or American Express? Tough. Mastercard are the sponsors after all, and maybe this would increase the take-up of its credit card.

So the first round of tickets was weighed heavily in the favour of the locals and the sponsors, but FIFA have managed to surpass themselves with the next round of ticket sames. According to an article on the Deutsche Welle website, to apply for tickets in the next draw (which started on November 2nd), fans have to pay a booking fee of €5 which is, get this, non-refundable even if your ticket application is unsuccessful.

Which makes it an entry-fee for the ticket lottery, and not a booking fee at all, and coming from FIFA, one of the richest sporting organisations in the world it is, to put it mildly, taking the piss.

It seems completely ridiculous to me that so many tickets have been told before the draw for the competition is made (aside from anything else it guarantees a black market explosion), but on top of that the way the ticket sales have been organised have been nothing short of scandalous. They know fans are desperate for tickets and so they can treat them in a way no other business would dare treat its customers. The World Cup is only every four years, and the next one in Europe probably will not be until well into the 2010's, so they can probably get away with it.

The European Union is probe, probe, probing away, which will probably come to nothing, but might force a re-think for the ticket systems for future FIFA or UEFA competitions.

The Deutsche Welle Article: EU Probes World Cup Ticket Fees.

Meanwhile in the Bundesliga...

Bayern win again as they continue towards their goal of having the championship wrapped up by the winter break. Defeat for Werder Bremen versus Schalke allowed Hamburg to squeeze into second place, six points behind the champions. Local heroes Hertha drew, which leaves them fifth, one point inside the European places.

Round-up from Deutsche Welle: And then there was one....
Results and the Bundesliga Table: Kicker.de

Guide: Elsewhere - Meissen

As part of the Berlin Review ethos of Monday to Friday blogging, because "weekends are for living", we left the lap-top behind this weekend for a couple of days in Meissen, and decided this would be a good place to start the Berlin Review Guide to Elsewhere...

Meissen: Distance from the Hauptstadt= 180km

If the big city life gets a little to much, and you want a town small enough to wander in a day, that has a nice 'German' feel, a big castle on a hill, and is not in Bavaria (so reachable in a couple of hours), then you could do much worse than Meissen. A medieval market town about 20km north of Dresden in Saxony, Meissen is a charming place. Sitting next to the Elbe, with the historic old town climbing the side of a hill to the castle perched on top, it is a collection of narrow, cobbled streets, houses with red-slate roofs, and cosy pubs and restaurants where you can attempt to get your mouth around the Saxon accent and cuisine.

Meissen is famous for a couple of things. In 1709 an alchemist by the name of Johann Friedrich Böttger was trying to find a way to make gold...and in the process he discovered how to make Porcelain. His boss, August the Strong (Saxon elector to the Holy Roman Empire, history fans) set up the Meissen Porcelain Manufacture, and it has become one of the most prized, and therefore expensive, porcelains you can buy anywhere in world. I saw one dinner service set, dating back to 1910, that would set you back a cool €21,000 if you want all 30 pieces. No wonder the locals call it 'white gold'.

Other things Meissen is famous for: a puffy baked good, that is basically dough inflated. Hollow, it doesn't taste of much, but is a locaspecialtyty that they are somehow proud of. This came about because August the Strong (him again), suspicious that one of his couriers was enjoying the local wine a little too much, ordered his baker to create something extremely fragile. The courier then had to deliver the messages whilst keeping this Fummel intact, to prove his sobriety.

Some decidedly more tasty local specialities, include the Meissen wine, from vineyards around the town, and various Saxon dishes, which at this time of year included a lot of game (wild boar, venison), which we tried at the oldest Inn in town, the Domkeller by the castle and the cathedral, that dates back to the 15th Century.

About two hours drive from Berlin, Meissen is close enough and small enough for a day trip from the capital to be justified, and being only half an hour from Dresden it can be combined easily with the larger city as part of a Saxon long weekend. We had a great time, just wandering the streets, stopping in cosy pubs and restaurants to eat and drink, checking out the views from the castle...there wasn't all that much to do (although we could have gone to the Porcelain factory) but it wasn't that kind of town...a place for strolling, eating and drinking. It's not rock and roll, but nevertheless, I liked it.

Useful Info

We drove in a hire car, but you can take the train. Meissen is on the Leipzig-Dresden railway line, so you'll have to change if you are coming from Berlin. You can find some more information on the whole deal with the porcelain from the website of the Staatliche Porzellan Manufaktur itself, and about the city in English at Meissen Online.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Berlin Review-ed: Friday 25th November

So the first real week of the Berlin Review comes to an end, and I have to say it has been a lot of fun...although I am still struggling with some of the technical aspects of this blogging lark, and we need to do something to make this page a bit more 'ours'.

The Berlin Review is going to be a Monday to Friday kind of gig, because we're traditionalists in that we like our weekends off...although we will post if something really catches our eye, or more likely, drink too much beers watching the football and think it is a good idea.

Thanks to all of you that dropped by in the first week, read the articles and left comments, and for those who have stumbled upon us over the weekend, here's the Berlin Review-ed for the week:

On Monday I wrote about my love of Hertha Berlin, as well as a Picasso Exhibition currently showing.

Tuesday saw Gunther debating the Merkel era, whilst otherwise the Berlin Review was going literary with a guide to English Bookshops in Berlin, and the first installment of our review of books on the city; Goodbye to Berlin.

I waded into the Merkel debate on Wednesday to discuss was Merkel's rise to power said about Women in Politics. His normal role usurped, Gunther decided to post about Russendisko instead.

Thursday's news was that of the Americans Battle for the Berin Airwaves, discussing the fight for a radio license between NPR and Voice of America, as well as information on Rooms for the World Cup.

Friday featured Gunther's return to the topic of VAT and the New Goverment, as well as the second installment of books on Berlin The Innocent.

So that was the week that was folks - enjoy your weekend, I'm about to go and play in the snow, and we'll see you on Monday. Cheers.

Review: Berlin Books - The Innocent

I wanted to end the week with a second installment in the 'Books on Berlin' series, so here it is...

The Innocent: Ian McEwan

One of the finest British writers of his generation, the Booker Prize-winning Ian McEwan published The Innocent in 1990, which must have been a publishers dream time to put out a book set in Berlin. The Innocent follows the arrival of a young British engineer called Leonard who arrives in the city in the 1950s to work on a top secret tunnel the Americans were building into the Soviet sector in order to tap into the communications lines of the Red Army and its political command.

Once there he meets and falls in love with a German woman, who has a lot to teach the 25 year-old British 'Innocent'. These are the two main storylines and they intersect at different points, such when Leonard's new girlfriend falls under suspicion of the Americans because her parents live in the Soviet-controlled Pankow, and not least with the climax of the tale which, so as not to spoil it, will be left unexplained.

For me the most powerful aspect of the Innocent is the way McEwan shows how one moment, or a series of tiny, insignificant choices, can result in absolutely horrifying, life-changing conclusions. The development of Leonard from The Innocent of the title into what he becomes by the end is both dramatic and yet subtly done. There is not one particular moment where Leonard changes, rather it is a number of events that lead him to the climatic scene, and even there he is more than a little unlucky. At times you really dislike Leonard, and at others you simply feel sorry for him - here was a man that got out of his depth, and had no experience in how to deal with it.

The Berlin of the novel is divided but not yet separated, and the sense of the era is well done - both in the Cold War tensions of the project Leonard is engaged in, to his almost triumphal glee on arrival, despite his naivete, of being a Brit, and therefore one of the victors, walking through the vanquished city that was still being rebuilt.

Ian McEwan may have gone on to have written better - or at least more acclaimed - books, but if you want an intelligent cold war thriller, a literary spy novel, tense and beautifully written, and you want it about Berlin, then you could do much, much worse than this.

'The Innocent is of course available at Amazon, but if you are in Berlin, go and see if you can find it at one of the English Bookshops.

More Books on Berlin.

News: That VAT thing one more time...

In this post I criticised the Grand Coalition's plan to increase VAT in 2007 to 19%, questioning how they proposed to increase consumer spending and bolster the economy by making stuff, well, more expensive.

Doug left me a question in the comments section, asking if I had any indication why VAT increases were seen by the new coalition as a sensible course of action to improve economic conditions in the Bunderepublik. I answered off the top of my head - I was in the middle of dinner - but the question got me thinking, and so I decided to have a look. Here's what I found...

According to the new Economics Minister, Michael Glos (CSU), quoted on Bloomberg.com, the logic behind the VAT rise is simple;

"We will receive an economic stimulus as purchases will be brought forward,'' said Glos, 60, in an interview today in Berlin. In 2007, ``we hope that the upswing will have stabilized enough that the dent in the economy that may be caused by the VAT increase can be overcome.''

So basically the idea is to give the economy a shot in the arm. We will all go out and buy cars and computers before the VAT rise kicks in, a short term boost for long term growth. But isn't it long term economic growth that is needed, not just a quick fix to boost spending for a year? And anyway, where's the evidence that this panic-buying, sorry, "economic stimulus", is going to occur over the next 16 months?

One of the problems for the German economy is that no-one is spending anyway. So maybe the 'threat' of increased VAT will actually persuade people to go buy that new car or washing machine now rather than later. But I think the real reason for the lack of 'consumer confidence' or whatever you want to call it is jobs. At present there are a lot of people who either (a) don't have one, or (b) are scared that they won't find one if they lose the one they have got. Large employers, such as Deutsche Telekom, DaimlerChrysler, Volkswagen and Siemens have all announce big job cuts. If you think your job is at risk over the next year or so then that washing machine is going to wait, VAT increase or no increase.

It remains to be seen whether Glos is correct, and this policy will stimulate the purse strings to the point that they loosen, but I remain doubtful. It certainly won't influence my spending plans over the next 16 months or so, although that of course is neither here nor there.

It seems like each time I post I give myself more questions than answers, so if any of you economists out there want to shed some light on how Germany can create jobs, give consumers confidence, and increase spending then I would love to hear from you. Better yet, let Herr Glos know...being Economics Minister in this government ain't going to be easy.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

News: Americans Battle over the Berlin Airwaves

An interesting article in Der Spiegel today: Battling for the Airwaves in Berlin

The basic jist of the piece is that since the Second World War the frequency 89.9FM has been owned by the US government. Currently the license is held by Voice of America (VOA), although the majority of the stations output is produced by rock station Star FM, with VOA's contributions limited to hourly news bulletins delivered in a sombre tone guaranteed to cure insomnia.

The license however is up for offer in 2006, and VOA suddenly has competition, from fellow-amis National Public Radio (NPR). Apparently the people with the most influence over VOA are some folks called the Broadcasting Board of Governors. They in turn are responsible for all US government and government sponsored, non-military broadcasting. Meanwhile the NPR, and in particular NPR journalists, are not very popular with the American administration because of a perceived liberal bias.

So there is a battle on for control of the frequency, and it is the Medienanstalt Berlin-Brandenberg that has to make the final decision.

Now what NPR wants to do sounds interesting to me, replacing hourly news bulletins with a really program of imported and Berlin-centred programmes in English. They say they want to the 'American Cultural Voice' in the German capital. More good radio in English should be welcomed, even in these technological times - after all, you can't read blogs or online editions of newspapers whilst I am cooking the dinner, now, can you?

The underlying tone of the article suggests that the fight is more to do with NPR and the fact that the US government do not seem to like them very much. But for this radio listener, another English language station to go alongside the excellent BBC World would be a positive development. Losing VOA as it is now would basically be no loss...is there anyone out there who tunes in for those bulletins? NPR at least seem to be planning something worth listening to. Especially if it included original broadcasts in English with a Berlin theme, something which, understandably, BBC World does not offer.

It would be interesting to hear what others think about this. Is there a need for an English radio station in Berlin? Should it be run by NPR? And can any Americans out there shed any more light on this debate between the NPR and the US Government? The decision will apparently be made in early December, and at the moment I know which outcome I want to see.

Having said all that, I used to work in a kitchen, and Star FM was great for hearing ACDC, T-Rex, and various other Rock Classics whilst you washed a few dishes, so part of me (the lighter in the air part) is just a little torn...

Blogs: More 'Blogs We Like' from Berlin

Some more 'Blogs We Like' today - will keep trying to add blogs to the link list that are from Berlin and/or Germany, so if you want us to link to yours then let us know.

First up is the ultra-cool Berlin Blogplan, which I became aware of thanks to my good buddy the Berlin Bear. It is basically a map of the U- and S-Bahn network, and if you have a blog and are in Berlin, you enter the nearest station to you and get yourself on the map. See if you can find us (without cheating)!

Next we have the extremely amusing Observing Hermann from the perspective of a self-titled 'amnesic American lost in Berlin'. Hermann is the flatmate, and parts of the blog - especially those dealing with the cultural quirks of this city we love - are very, very funny indeed.

Then there is Metroblog Berlin which has a lot of different bloggers, which means it is often updated, and some nice pics into the bonus.

Finally I would like to draw attention to a post I found by a blogger who is not based in Berlin but happens to be here at the moment. Welcome to the Hauptstadt Marcel and enjoy your stay. Your Love Letter to Berlin was very poetic indeed.

News: Rooms for the World Cup

This is great for people who are coming to Germany for the World Cup next year, or live in one of the host cities and want to make a few euros. After all, everyone else will be cashing in on the football extravaganza, so why shouldn't you.

The Staying with Friends site is on Immobilien Scout, a real estate website where normally people go to find a new flat to rent or a house to buy. What they have done is create a system where you can offer a spare room or a whole flat for the period of the World Cup, whilst people coming to town to watch the game can search for a place to stay. In Berlin the prices range from 15 euros a day for a one room flat in Reinickendorf - which is cheaper than any dorm bed in a hostel - to 500 euros PER DAY for a nine room villa on the Falkensee.

Wow. I wonder what my flat would be worth...

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

What's On: Russendisko at Kaffee Burger

Seeing as P. stole my political clothes this evening, the next installment of Merkel-watch from this lap-top will have to come another time. So instead I wanted to give those in Berlin this weekend a head's up for the Russendisko night at Kaffee Burger.

Russendisko is a night that belongs to (but not exclusively) DJ/writer, all round szene-superstar Vladimir Kaminer. Kaminer came to Berlin not long after the wall came down, a period chronicled entertainingly in his book that goes by the almost-the-same-as-his-club-night name of 'Russian Disco'. Whilst the book is worth a read, Russendisko the club night is worth a dance, and there is no better place than its spiritual home at Kaffee Burger.

The Kaffee Burger on the Torstrasse (U2 - Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz) is a venue that will one day deserve a post of its own, but for now let's leave you with the words: hot, sweaty, packed, DDR-chic. That just about covers it. Most nights at the Kaffee Burger are worth the entry fee, whether it is French poets, surf music, or experimental film, but Russendisko is the standard bearer for what nights out can be like, not just there but anywhere.

The place will be packed, the walls will be dripping. People will drink and dance and kiss and fall against each other and eventually end up out on the street blinking in the Saturday sunshine, perhaps with a new friend or two. After one legendary night at the Russendisko a Polish women invited myself and a friend back to her 'cabin by the lake'. As long as we paid the S-Bahn fare. We never went.

The music? I call it Russianpunkfolkcriminaldiskodiva. And if Vladimir likes that, he can use it.

Kaminer and his co-DJ Yuriy Gurzhy have even put out a CD, the tracklisting of which may be obscure, but will give you some sense of what they all about.

On Saturday I'll be the guy wearing the beige cord suit, by the bar. Buy me a beer.

Russendisko with DJs Kaminer & Gurzhy at Kaffee Burger
Saturday 26th November
Torstrasse 60, 10119 Berlin, U2 and Tram M8 Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz
Opens at 10pm

News: German Papers on the New Government

For those readers and web surfers around the world who don't speak German and are wondering what the German media is making of the arrival of Frau Merkel as the new boss, Der Spiegel's international site have an overview from some of them in English.

This quote made me smile, from the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, translated on Der Spiegel;

"At the moment, public confidence in the grand coalition is greater than the confidence the coalition has in itself,"

Hmmm. Now, considering the confidence of those elements of the public I know, the confidence of the coalition itself must be rock bottom.

Der Spiegel Article

(PS. Although Gunther may be around soon, I'm going to leave the politics alone for a while and write about something else...)

News: Angela Merkel, Women, and Politics

With Merkel and the new government being the big news in Berlin today, it is not surprising that many bloggers have their own take on what all this means for Germany's foreign, domestic, and most of all economic policy. But a post on Ioannis's Studio, entitled Feminine studies in German politics got me thinking about the issue of successful women in politics.

Ioannis makes the point that it is often women who most resemble "ruthless male politicians" who achieve success in the political sphere, and then goes on to question what this means for the success or otherwise of the feminist movement.

Big thoughts for a wet Wednesday evening, but interesting none the less. Certainly, the female politician most commentators want to compare our Angie to is the Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher. And it is certain that when it comes to ruthlessness, there weren't many who could compare with Maggie. But is ruthlessness such a male trait, and if women employ it to reach the top of what is undoubtedly a ruthless profession, does that mean they are aping men, or just doing what needs to be done, irrespective of gender, to succeed?

For myself, I think that no doubt, like it or not, politics, and especially party politics, is a ruthless, male dominated game. And it takes a certain type of woman to succeed in such shark infested waters. But it also takes a certain type of man as well. There is a legitimate question to be raised over the fact that political culture is such that it rewards the ruthless and the pragmatic over, for example, consensus-building idealism. And of course, parliamentary politics should be made more woman-friendly, as they have been trying in the UK.

In the end though, I don’t see this as a failure of the feminist movement to drive change in our society. Maybe Merkel needed to be 'more like a man' (in the opinion of current political culture) to reach the top in the CDU, or maybe she just needed to play the game the way that it has always been played. But the fact that a deeply conservative party, and its conservative electorate, can vote for a woman (and we haven't even started on the Ossi thing) suggests that whether the political boys club like it or not society is changing - although there remains an awful lot of work to be done. Glass ceilings in many professions remain in place, but some women can break through. We should be celebrating that fact even whilst we moan about Merkel's politics. And we should judge her only on her politics.

Now, roll on the Condi-Hilary showdown in 2008...

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Review: Berlin Books - Goodbye to Berlin

In the run-up to Christmas I decided to put together a series of reviews on books about Berlin, both fiction and non-fiction. Here's the first installment...

Goodbye to Berlin (or the Berlin Stories): Christopher Isherwood

I love this book. Usually it comes packaged as 'the Berlin Stories' along with 'Mr Norris Changes Trains', but the Mr Norris story is not a patch on what can be found in Goodbye to Berlin, mainly because as a character, Mr Norris is just plain annoying. Mr Norris Changes Trains, or 'The Last of Mr Norris' as it sometimes called, is a kind of comic Goodbye to Berlin-lite. I want to stick to the real thing:

The book/novel is split into various chapters about certain moments or times in Isherwood's life in Berlin. Of course, Isherwood always called it a novel, but then muddied the waters by calling the narrator, well, Christopher Isherwood. It is based on the time he lived in Berlin, 1929 - 1933, the period between the Wall Street Crash and Hitler's rise to power. As a snap-shot of life in Berlin during this turbulant period there are not many better, and although the majority of the stories contained in Goodbye to Berlin deal with characters and the details of their lives, the political situation is never far away from the action.

This is the case with the Nazi Isherwood and his friends meet on the beach in Ruegen, or with the issue of the Jewish boycotts of the Landauers department store...whilst you read about the struggles between Otto and Peter and their relationship on Ruegen, or of the family dynamics of the Landauer family, the sense of Berlin in a particular time and place remains strong throughout.

And then of course there is Sally Bowles. The character who is the inspiration behind the film Cabaret, and arguably the main character in Goodbye to Berlin after the narrator. Or perhaps even more so; the 1975 edition of 'the Berlin Stories' (with Mr Norris included) was entitled 'The Berlin of Sally Bowles' such was her fame beyond the book. Isherwood himself seemed to be in thrall to her, and what the character became in the wider world, but for me I find Sally a little cold, dippy, and unsympathetic.

I would much rather read about the entertaining Nowak family, or the other stories I mentioned, and at one point even the Isherwood character loses his patience with Miss Bowles. I could well understand why he got fed up with her. What I couldn't work out was why, in the end, he could never stay away from her. Regardless of my problems with Sally, Goodbye to Berlin remains one of my favourite Berlin books because of the way it invokes the atmosphere of the time, of a city on the brink of something but no-one knows what, and how that situation manifested itself in the social, economic and political lives of ordinary people who lived there.

This is what gives the book a sense of melancholy and sadness, especially when you try to imagine what came next for the characters within...the firebrand Communist, sometime-homosexual, Otto, or the Jewish Landauer family or even Frau Schroeder, Isherwood's landlady. This is Berlin on the edge, a portrait of bohemians, politicos, the rich and the poor, and Ishwerwood manages in a surprisingly small amount of pages to draw them all, and draw them well.

'Berlin Stories', which includes Goodbye to Berlin, is available at Amazon, or if you are in Berlin, you might want to try one of the English Bookshops in Berlin.

More Books on Berlin

Blogs: Blogs We Like in Germany

I just added a couple more blogs to the 'Blogs We Like' links on the right-hand sidebar, and split them into two categories: one for blogs based in Berlin or Germany, and one for blogs somewhere else. The two I added are:

Papa Scott, an amusing website from an American living near Hamburg. I especially liked his posts on life in Germany in general, and dealing with the wonderful people of the German bureaucracy in particular.

In Actual Fact, another expat, this time a Brit who as far as I can work out is in Stuttgart. But that is unimportant. What I enjoyed was the British humour (oh how I miss it), and like Papa Scott, the outsiders take on life in Germany.

Guide: English Bookshops in Berlin

EDIT: For some reason this post gets a lot of hits from the search engines. Anyway, there is an update on the Saint George's Bookshop over in my new home.

If you want to buy English books in Berlin it is not all that difficult, and the city is quite well-served, although if you are looking for something very specific you may have to wait whilst they order it for you, and in that instance you would be better off with Amazon.de or one of those websites.

But sometimes going to a bookshop and browsing the shelves offers something that Amazon can't offer, whatever the selection or the prices they have online. So here is the Berlin Review guide to English Bookshops in Berlin. Check them out...

Another Country
Riemannstraße 7,
10961 Berlin-Kreuzberg
Website

Down in the heart of Kreuzberg, where the punks and the Turks like to play, the Another Country bookshop is a cosy place where they do not seem to mind if you sit in a comfy chair and read for a while. As well as a good selection, they have a book borrowing service which works by you buying the book, returning it when you are done, and getting your money back minus a reading fee. A good deal for the transient or under-paid. As well as the books there are all kinds of events, from Sci-Fi clubs to film nights, all of which are detailed on the Another Country Weblog.

Books in Berlin
Goethestraße 69,
10625 Berlin-Charlottenburg
Website

Down a quiet street in the Berlin West End, Books in Berlin is an excellent shop for new books, as well as a good selection of second hand books, and a venue for readings and other literary events. The owner is a nice chap as well, and extremely well-informed when it comes to the latest news in the publishing scene. He will also order any new books for you that he doesn't have in stock.

Storytime Books and Cafe
Schmargendorfer Straße 36/37,
12159 Berlin-Friedenau
Website

The Storytime bookshop is a children's bookshop, so this is not for you if you want the latest Ian Rankin or Martin Amis. But if you have kids this is a wonderful place, with books in both German and English, a cafe for mums and dads to get an energy boost, as well as story-telling sessions and singalongs in both languages. Check out the website for more information on the live events for little 'uns at the Storytime.

East of Eden
Schreinerstr. 10,
10247 Berlin-Friedrichshain
Website
(Thanks to I Hate My Neighbours for the East of Eden website address)

Over in Friedrichshain, in old East Berlin, the East of Eden is a funny one. Some people will love the thousands of second books, its teetering, piled shelves, the musty bookshop smell, the fact that there are literally books everywhere...but, it is not really for me. Whenever I have been in I have given up ever finding anything I might like to read as there are just so many books in such a small space that it is impossible to find anything. The guys behind the East of Eden are involved in readings in English at the Gaslight Poetry Cafe which is around the corner from the bookshop.

Saint George's
Wörtherstraße 27,
10405 Berlin-Prenzlauer Berg
Website
(The website link was not working when I wrote this, but I live nearby so I might go over and ask them on the weekend)

I like the layout of the Saint George's Second Hand bookshop. It is not cluttered, they only seem to stock books in good condition, and the percentage of good books to total stock is higher than any other second hand bookshop in Berlin. But it seemed a little expensive to me, especially in the era of Amazon, and the choice - although good - was not massive. But combined with a trip to the Saturday market on Kollwitzplatz, it is definately worth a look.

Dussmann - das KulturKaufhaus
Friedrichstrasse 90,
10117 Berlin-Mitte
Website

Not strictly an English bookshop, Dussmann is a monolithic CD, DVD, Books and "Culture" store on the Friedrichstrasse. But if you are in Mitte, and you are looking for a brand new spanking book, then Dussmann is the place to go. The English language section is surprisingly large, and when it comes to buying new books in Berlin, it competes well with the specialist shops. Of course, being a big warehouse of a place it is a little impersonal, although there are seats in sit in and read. The books in English about or set in Germany is pretty good too.

Marga Schoeller Bücherstube
Knesebeckstraße 33,
10623 Berlin-Charlottenburg
(No website found)

I liked the Marga Schoeller bookshop in Charlottenburg the moment I walked in and found free cake and coffee for browsers...Amazon can do a lot of things, but they can't do that! The bookshop is split into English and German sections, and the English section is possibly the best-stocked selection of new titles in Berlin. Especially well-represented are new non-fiction and academic books, and the staff of this cosy but well-ordered store are both helpful and knowledgable.

Berlin Review Best of...by Category
Best Bookshop for New Books: Marga Schoeller
Best Bookshop for Second Hand Books: Saint George's
Bookshop where the Berlin Review buy all their English books because they are lazy: Dussmann

(If we missed any out, or any of the details in the guide above have changed, please let us know...)

News: More Reaction on the Merkel era

From the Current Affairs Desk

If today is the day that we officially get the new government here in Berlin (and who knows what might happen after the last six weeks) then we are about an hour into the Merkel era. The vote takes place in around 9 hours, and although anything might happen, it is probable that she will breeze through the thing and make her own brand of sour-faced history.

That wasn't very nice, was it? But I didn't want her as Chancellor in the first place, and certainly not as the leader of this lame duck coalition. As I posted last Friday, I am extremely doubtful whether the Grand Coalition will last the full term or even make much of a difference in the meantime.

But in the spirit of, well, getting into the spirit of the thing, I decided to take a look at some of the key points in the coalition agreement:

(I took this list from the Guardian article on the agreement here, somewhat confusingly titled 'At a glance' and then subtitled, 'The new government's plans in full')

VAT increase from 16% to 19% from 2007

Madness. The German consumer is not spending so we increase VAT? Also, VAT is like tax on cigarettes or alcohol - it disproportionately hits the pockets of the less well-off.

A rise in the top rate of tax from 42% to 45% for anyone earning €250,000 a year

The lefty in me likes this one, but in an era of open borders, free markets, and off-shore bank accounts, won't the rich just bugger off to Switzerland? They even speak German there.

New workers to no longer get legal protection against redundancy for the first two years of employment, up from the current six months

Now the lefty in me is angry at this erosion of worker's rights but...whisper it...this might actually be a good idea. The German system as it stands sometimes involves near impossible labour laws, especially for mid-sized companies. What they do, in my experience, is hire students or worse interns, who don't pay any taxes nor social insurance and can be somewhat fired at will.

If companies realise they can take a chance on hiring people for a couple of years without the permanent jobs kicking in, they may be inclined to hire more full-time, tax paying workers. Which will bring unemployment down. Maybe. (Tomorrow I will head down to the statue of Karl and Friedrich and beg for forgivenesss).

The abolition of some tax rebates for commuters and homeowners

Ooo...taking cash in taxes. This is an inspirational program alright. Only thing is, they had better get things working otherwise people are going to be really pissed off (as opposed to now, where they are mildly disillusioned. Kind of).

An increase in the retirement age from 65 to 67 by 2035

If the pensions situation doesn't improve dramatically, this will be up to 70 and beyond before we even reach 2035.

The existing commitment to phase out Germany's nuclear power stations by 2021 to be kept

I like this one. Atomkraft? Nein Danke! Hey, it's the 1980s again!

Germany to be a "reliable" partner again with the US and the rest of Europe

What the fuck does that mean? A reliable partner to whom? I think Schroeder was quite reliable for the French, and he didn't seem to overly piss off Russia. So this means the US and the UK then, right? Germany joins the 'Coalition of the Willing'? Hehe, I doubt it. They will continue to send aid and help to wherever needs it, but do you remember the anti-Bush demos a few years back? BEFORE the mess in Iraq? Imagine them trying to send German troops to fight in Iran, or Syria, or Wales, or whoever is targeted next.

So what does 'more reliable' mean? Nothing. Same old, same old.

These are the radical changes Germany needs, according to the election campaign? Increase taxes or decrease tax rebates, make it marginally easier to fire people (welcome to the temporary contract), and be slightly more polite to Bush and Blair when they ask if we want to join them on their next 'escapade' (Gulf War VII: Starring Bruce Willis, trying to claim his own bounty)?

Stumble, compromise, yawn and stumble. Well done Angie. You got there in the end.

Monday, November 21, 2005

What's On: The Private Life of Pablo Picasso

This looks pretty cool...the Musée Picasso in Paris has decided to celebrate their twentieth anniversary in Berlin. Of course, the best place for an anniversary is probably Paris in the first place, but if you already come from there then you have to go someplace else...

Anyway, they arrived on the 30th September and have squatted in the Neue Nationalgalerie over in the Kulturforum by Potsdamer Platz, and have brought with them over 170 works of art by the great man himself, including paintings, sculptures and little drawings on bits of paper. Sorry, sketches. Also, the exhibition includes photos from the Picasso Archive, including scenes from his private life.

You can get some more details from the Picasso in Berlin website.

Oh, and one more thing...you know what we have to thank for this wonderful exhibition that is coming to Berlin? Well, the Musée Picasso for one, but ultimately it is down to Picasso's less-than-careful financial planning that we are recieving this artistic windfall - until the 22nd January at least, when it heads back to Paris. From the exhibition website:

The Musée Picasso in Paris is home to this magni-ficent collection of artworks which the artist held in his possession throughout his lifetime. After his death ownership of the works was transferred to the French government in lieu of death duties.

And all Berlin art lovers are thankful for that.

The exhibition 'Pablo: Der Private Picasso' runs in the Neue Nationalgalerie until the 22nd January and is open every day except Mondays.

News: Bundesliga - Hertha lose...

As you can probably guess from the title, there was a wry smile on my face on Saturday when, sitting in my favourite cafe watching the Bundesliga, the news came through that Hertha Berlin had lost 2-0 against Borussia Dortmund. It still leaves Hertha fifth in the Bundesliga table, but 13 points behind the leaders Bayern with only thirteen games played.

Which means that the chances of having to live through a championship celebration here in the German capital remain small, and thank goodness for that.

Now, when it comes to football my true allegiances lie back across the channel in sunny England, but when I moved to Berlin I thought it might be nice to find a Bundesliga team to support. I went to a number of games at the impressive Olympiastadion, but it wasn't the nazi-era architecture that left me cold. Rather, it was the fans of the Berlin club. I don't know where they hang out all week, but ride the S-Bahn or the U2 on matchdays and you'll see what I am talking about. Football fans in general are often not the most pleasant bunch to be stuck with on a train carriage, but for pure asocial ape-like behaviour, the Hertha fans I came into contact with took some beating.

(Note: Yes, yes, I know. There are plenty of nice Hertha fans. Problem is, they are not a loud or dominating as the kindl-swigging bunch that I ran into each time I headed west to watch the footie)

They probably lost me the moment when a bunch of them, hearing me speaking in English to a friend of mine, starting singing songs about my passport and other nationalistic guff that anyone living in Germany can tell you is extremely rare indeed. One of my pals, a Stuttgart fan if it matters, told me the problem with Hertha is that they have no history. In his words, they are not a real club. So I will leave Hertha to the lost and lonely that only feel worth something when they are in a group and able to intimidate and dominate the surroundings, and cheer whoever is playing against them.

Which is sad, because Hertha have some good players. Not least the irrepressible Marcelinho who would be worth the price of a ticket to the Olympiastadion alone.

(In the interests of fairness, if you haven't been to watch a game you should go - the stadium is a wonder - so if you want to find out when Hertha are playing you can find the schedule and other club-related info here.)

Blogs: Deutsche Welle Blog Awards

The Deutsche Welle have announced their international blog awards this morning and the winner is a Spanish-language blog based on the life and times of an Argentinian housewife. Now, my Spanish is limited to ordering two beers and a ham and cheese sandwich, so I can't give an opinion on the winner, apart from to say that it looks very nice, but let's take a look at the winner of the best English language blog, something that I can understand.

The best English language blog goes to Global Voices Online, a project sponsored by Harvard University, and brings together bloggers from around the world into one place. Regional editors look for the most interesting things in the blogosphere and link to the best posts daily. At the same time Global Voices have a huge bunch of contributing bloggers who post daily features from their home country.

I had a quick look around the site and it looks like a great resource if you are interested in what is going on in the blogs around the world. This post from the Caribbean editor, which primarily focuses on the blogosphere's reaction to the qualification of Trinidad and Tobago to the World Cup in Germany next year, is a good example of what Global Voices is all about. In fact, I liked it so much I am adding a link to the 'Blogs We Like'...

You can get a rundown on the Deutsche Welle international blog awards, including all the winners in all the categories, here.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Books on Berlin

The Berlin Review guide to Books on Berlin is of course massively subjective and even when finished will be by no means exhaustive. If you are interested in writing a review then send us an email to berlinreview@yahoo.co.uk and if we like it we will post it with whatever credit (name, website, blog) that you would like.

The Books on Berlin series so far...

#1. Goodbye to Berlin, by Christopher Isherwood
#2. The Innocent, by Ian McEwan
#3. Stasiland, by Anna Funder
#4. Russian Disco, by Wladimir Kaminer

More to come soon...

Friday, November 18, 2005

News: Germany Expects Waves of Prostitutes

Last month the scare stories were about the 100,000 English fans that were going to descend on Germany for the 2006 World Cup. Now the reports are that authorities expect at least 40,000 prostitutes to come for the duration of the competition.

From the Guardian:

As well as fans, the German authorities are expecting a different kind of influx - at least 40,000 prostitutes. Previous global sporting events have attracted large numbers of sex workers, indeed at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, the authorities tried to banish prostitutes from the city centre. And, though the figures are necessarily hazy, officials believe that around 10,000 sex workers plied their trade during the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, many of them imported from abroad.

This time, World Cup organisers are expecting an even bigger invasion, not least because prostitution is legal in Germany. Asked how many women might turn up, Romy, the manager of Artemis, says: "You can hang another zero on to the 40,000 figure.


Blimey.

You can read the whole article here.

News: New Government Agreed ...Finally

From the Current Affairs Desk...

So they finally did it. Well done folks. Now, let us see if you can last the four years...

Germany has a new government. Angela Merkel is the first female Chancellor. Merkel's centre-right CDU/CSU and the party of outgoing Chancellor Schroeder, the centre-left (ha!) SPD have finally agreed a deal. If you want to know what happened throughout the election campaign and in its messy aftermath, you could do worse than having a browse through the 2005 Election pages from Deutsche Welle.

I also found this post by a New Zealander that goes by the name of the Berlin Bear on his blog The Capital Letter that very accurately analyses the situation.

Having finally got there it seems, to this observer at least, that this historic agreement has offered up more questions than it raises. How can two parties that spent the entire election campaign predicting the dire consequences should the other prevail work together for four years? How will increasing VAT increase consumer spending and kick-start the economy? What happens if the President declares the 2006 budget unconstitutional?

The way I see it is this: Germany is in a malaise of sorts, although it remains a fine old place to live, but this coalition agreement seems to me to be a recipe for well, nothing much. No-one, from the unions to industry seems happy with it, and 3% on everything you buy will be felt by all but the deepest of pockets. Meanwhile, as the coalition limps on the new Left Party - who currently no-one wants to work with - will continue to pick up disillusioned voters from the SPD and will probably hold the balance of power again in the next election unless the CDU/CSU-FDP can somehow cobble together a majority.

In the meantime the FDP will get more vocal about the need for radical, neo-liberal change, and will have the CDU/CSU over a barrel in any future coalition between the two, and likewise the Left Party will increase the pressure on the SPD to move back towards the Social Democratic left that Schröder (like his former Third Way buddy Blair) abandoned. Next time around such a Grand Coalition as we got today could be all but impossible to form.

Welcome to the Berlin Review

Welcome to the Berlin Review, a new Berlin blog in English that will post on a wide variety of topics related to this fine city and what goes on here. Hopefully you will find the information useful and the opinions interesting...if we get things wrong well, with regards info let us know so we can make the correct adjustments, with regards opinion, mouth off in the comments section. After all, that's the beauty of blogs, right?

The blog is in English, and as such we will attempt to link only to news articles, blogs or other websites that are the same. Unless we really like them, or there is no other option.

The format for how we do this has not quite been decided as we are taking things as they come, and always looking to make things better, but if you find the blog useful and have some suggestions then let us know. Also, if you have a blog about Berlin make sure you tell us so we can add you to the 'Blogs We Like' list.

The person writing this is P., who will be joined by friends from time to time in order to bring other views or expertise to the whole enterprise, and if you want to contact me then you can do so at berlinreview@yahoo.co.uk.

BTW - sometimes we will post upcoming events or exhibitions or something like that. We will try to be accurate but posting might sometimes be hampered by alcohol. If a gig or a film or an exhibition takes your fancy, check with the organisers to make sure everythings a-ok.

Enjoy!